Trigger Warning: This story is graphic and includes details of an alleged sexual assault.
UPDATE: August 10, 12:30 p.m.
Rankin County Tax Assessor John Sullivan was found not guilty on all counts after closing arguments from the prosecution and the defense Thursday.
On Wednesday, the jury of 11 men and one woman heard from both sides of the sexual assault accusations against Rankin County Tax Assessor John Sullivan.
It was Day 3 of the trial against the politician, accused by a 19-year-old alleged victim of sexually assaulting her at his home on the early morning of March 26, 2022. Darkhorse Press does not identify the victims of sexual crimes, alleged or otherwise.
Sullivan is charged with four counts which include penile sexual penetration of a vulnerable person, sexual penetration with fingers, sexual penetration by cunnilingus, and attempted bodily injury.
The woman, now 21, took the stand and testified that she and some of her friends had gone out for a girls’ night at the Dockery Grill, and one of her friends’ mother was there. The group was approached by a man they later came to know as Jonathan Cline approached them and began to speak to one of her friends. Two of his friends, one of which was Sullivan, then approached the group.
The alleged victim said Sullivan tried to buy her a drink and she indicated to the bartender that she didn’t want it. She said he shrugged and walked off. There was a lot of talk about going to Sullivan’s home and getting in the hot tub, she said, but she did not see him again.
Cline asked the group to take him to his truck after closing time, and then asked the alleged victim to drive him back to his home. She said she didn’t mind because she was less intoxicated than he was. According to her testimony, she didn’t realize she was actually going to Sullivan’s house. She told the prosecution that since it was she and her two friends with one male their age, that she felt safe. She said Cline brought her a beer, and that it’s the only thing she remembers drinking there.
The alleged victim then testified that she didn’t see when Sullivan arrived. On cross-examination, the defense tried to establish a time line of when she “blacked out,” stressing that she was still able to walk, talk, and move around in spite of having no memory of events.
The alleged victim said she remembers most of the night up until the lights went out. Prior to that time, she said, she and the girls had played “baseball,” a game where they transfer smoke from a nicotene vape to each other’s mouths. Sullivan would later say in his interviews that he interpreted that as kissing.
During this time, a video from Sullivan’s surveillance cameras shows her getting out of the hot tub and Sullivan following along behind her and they enter the house. Reviewing the video, the alleged victim said she didn’t remember that part, and she didn’t remember making out or being touched by Sullivan in the hot tub.
Her next memory was waking up in the pitch dark with the feeling of something penetrating her. She could hear her friends banging on the door and screaming at her, and then stumbling to the door and trying to get it open, she told the court. She said when she finally got the door open, she saw her friends at the door and then she turned and saw Sullivan naked behind her in the light of the door.
“Why is your penis out? Why are you naked? Why are we in a dark room?” she testified to asking him. Then she started to hit him.
“That was me defending myself,” she said.
The alleged victim’s memory was still spotty, but she said remembered that when she woke up, she was laying on the bed with her legs hanging off the side and Sullivan was inside her legs.
A photo of Sullivan at the door taken by one of the alleged victim’s friends was the subject of much discussion with MBI investigator Josh Dougherty, as Sullivan had told investigators that he couldn’t get an erection but that he had tried to penetrate the alleged victim anyway. Dougherty testified that it looked as though he was functioning fine.
Both the alleged victim’s testimony and Sullivan’s interviews reflected that when she began to hit him, he allegedly picked her up by the throat and threw her on the bed. The alleged victim said she was yelling at Sullivan, asking, “How old are you? Do you know how old I am?”
She said Sullivan told her he was 53, and asked how old she was. When she responded that she was 19, he allegedly laughed and said, “Sounds old enough to me.”
Sullivan’s interview with Dougherty and subsequent statement to prosecution witness MHP Captain Ricky Dean held that the sex had been consensual. Dougherty kept asking if maybe he might not have misunderstood her intentions since they had both been so drunk, but Sullivan held that she knew who she was with and what she was doing.
In the statement to Dean, Sullivan asserted that he had gotten in the hot tub naked and that it “didn’t bother nobody,” and at that point they began “doing all the ass-grabbing and all that stuff.” Sullivan alleged the victim had tried to hook up with the other two men present and had eventually ended up with him. He said they made out in the hot tub and then he asked her if she wanted to have sex and she said yes.
In the second version, which he told to Dean, Sullivan said the alleged victim followed him into the bedroom and that he put her on the edge of the bed before beginning oral sex. “Then they’re knocking on the door,” he said, “I’m trying to screw her but it wouldn’t get as hard as I want it.”
Sullivan then told Dean that he got up to turn on the light and that the victim “jumped up like a spider monkey and started waling on me, so I grabbed her and put her on the bed.”
Testimony from both sides held that the alleged victim was hysterical and upset after leaving the room. At one point she testified that she did not feel safe because people were laughing at her and making fun of her situation.
The girls tried to leave Sullivan’s home, according to testimony, but the car wouldn’t start. As the alleged victim stayed far away from him, one of her friends allegedly asked him for help and he went and got jumper cables and a gas can.
He told Dean that as he tried to help them with the car, she said, “You’re f****d, you’re f****d. I’m 19, you’re f****d.”
Dean confirmed to prosecutors that the recording did have a confession from Sullivan that he had had achieved oral, digital, and penile penetration and that he had thrown her on the bed by her neck, matching the counts of the indictment.
When the state rested, the defense moved for a directed verdict, which was denied.
In spite of saying it was possible that Sullivan would testify, the defense called one witness: Leslia Davis, a forensic biologist from the state crime lab whose expertise is forensic serology and DNA analysis.
Davis said the alleged victim’s rape kit came up negative for sperm cells in buccal, vaginal, and rectal swabs. The teen’s clothes came up negative for semen in the bodysuit top, jeans, and socks, but there was a minor male profile not consistent with Sullivan on her compression shorts.
On cross examination, the prosecution asked Davis if it were possible that since the alleged victim hadn’t been wearing those underwear during or after the penetration, could it have been left over from a previous consensual encounter at a different time. Davis said yes.
The defense rested at the end of the day, and court resumes Thursday at 9 a.m.