Man Acquitted of Rape a Year After Sentencing

Michael P. Rellahan

WEST CHESTER — Two years after his arrest on charges he raped a family friend and more than a year after he was convicted and sentenced to a minimum of four years in prison, a jury acquitted a Riley Park man on all charges Friday.

The jury of seven woman and five men deliberated just under six hours Thursday and Friday before finding Phillip McKenna, 25, not guilty on charges of rape, sexual assault, indecent assault and indecent exposure.

McKenna left Judge James P. MacElree II’s courtroom with a number of family members and friends, all overcome with emotion.

“This has been a nightmare case,” McKenna said. “I think the jury returned the right verdict,” said McKenna’s attorney, Christian Hoey of Paoli. “I think it’s a fair verdict.”

McKenna had been found guilty in May 2007 of sexual assault, indecent assault of an unconscious person, indecent assault without the consent of another and indecent exposure. He was sentenced to four to 10 years in state prison, but his conviction was overturned in September by the state Superior Court.

The charges stemmed from events surrounding a party that McKenna and the victim, a 26-year- old Delaware County woman, attended the night of July 22, 2006, at which both admitted to having had too much to drink.

The woman, whose name is being withheld by the Daily Local News because of the nature of the charges, said that she had gone with McKenna and other friends from a backyard bonfire at a friend’s home to McKenna’s sister’s apartment at the Heather Glen development in West Goshen in the early morning hours of July 23. They both lay on a sofa in the living room and began watching a movie. The woman testified that she woke up later to find McKenna on top of her, having intercourse with her. She ran from the room and later told his sister, a close friend, what had happened.

When she returned to her home, she said she told her mother about the encounter and that they went to a hospital. Once there, however, she refused to submit to a rape kit or a pelvic exam, and said she did not want to tell police about the incident. Under cross-examination from Hoey, she said she told McKenna’s sister she didn’t want to press charges initially because of their friendship.

“It was rape,” she said. “It’s hard to comprehend that my best friend’s brother had done that to me in her house.” She told her friend she did not submit to the rape kit because,

“I didn’t want to hurt you, and I would have had to press charges and I didn’t know if I wanted to do that.”

She finally went to West Goshen police about a month later and reported the incident.

McKenna, who took the stand in his own defense, admitted that much of what happened that night he could not remember because he was intoxicated. He told the jury, however, that he and the woman had been involved in foreplay and that he believed she consented to having sex.

“I remember us having sex,” he said. “I was on the top and she was on the bottom.”

When he later awoke without clothes on, only to be confronted by his sister, he said he was shocked at the accusation. “I looked at her surprised. It was an alarming thing to wake up to.”

Part of the case hinged on letters that McKenna wrote to the woman afterward, in which he seemed to acknowledge some culpability in the matter.

“I didn’t think you were sleeping,” he wrote. “I am so sorry for my actions.”

Hoey attacked the woman’s credibility by providng witnesses who said they saw the two flirting at the beach in Ocean City, Md., prior to the incident. He also questioned why the woman would have waited so long to report the incident, suggesting that her boyfriend had pressured her into talking to the police.

The case was overturned after McKenna’s conviction in 2007, with the Superior Court finding that the trial judge had erred in sending the letters from McKenna out with the jury to read during deliberations. The letter, the appeals court ruled, amounted to a signed confession, evidence normally not permitted to be given to juries during deliberations.

Assistant District Attorney Kate Wright, who prosecuted the case, said she was taken aback by the verdict.

“I’m surprised,” she said. “Because of the evidence they had and the letters, it’s a surprise. But you never know how a jury is going to react.”