Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia speaks at a press conference, concerning his indictment in a 1996 sexual assault case, at the training facility in Allen Park, Michigan on May 10, 2018. Patricia says he was falsely accused. Daniel Mears, The Detroit News
Detroit — Court records released Friday in the Matt Patricia sexual assault case counter arguments from the Detroit Lions head coach’s lawyer that the prosecution was a “he said, she said” case and indicate prosecutors were armed with medical evidence and five witnesses.
Investigators collected statements from five witnesses and medical evidence from the 21-year-old college student who accused Matt Patricia of violently sexually assaulting her nearly 22 years ago, according to court records released Friday to The Detroit News.
Evidence collected during a 1996 investigation that led to Patricia and college friend Greg Dietrich being indicted on a charge of aggravated sexual assault came into sharper focus Friday, two days after The News revealed the Lions’ new coach was indicted in 1996 in a case that eluded the Lions’ background check. The felony carried the possibility of up to life in prison, but Patricia and Dietrich never stood trial because the case was dismissed.
Newly discovered court files show Patricia’s lawyer requested copies of the accuser’s medical report and prosecutors planned to have a doctor and nurse testify during Patricia’s trial. They never testified, however, because the criminal case was dismissed after the accuser said she could not handle the stress and pressure of a trial.
It is unclear if the medical evidence included DNA evidence, though former South Padre Island Police Chief E.E. Eunice told The News it was customary for his department to take sexual-assault accusers to an area hospital so medical staff could search for evidence of sexual assault.
Patricia’s lawyer, Jeff Wilson, told The News on Tuesday that he did not believe prosecutors were armed with DNA evidence.
“I don’t believe there was,” Wilson said. “In my opinion, it was a fabrication. I’m telling you it was a ‘he said, she said.’”
Wilson could not be reached for comment Friday. The Lions declined to comment.
But Cameron County Court records show Wilson requested a copy of the accuser’s medical report on Oct. 30, 1996, seven months after Patricia and Dietrich were arrested during Texas Week on South Padre Island, Texas.
“One of the problems in these types of cases is that the evidence can be equivocal,” said Peter Henning, a Wayne State University law professor and former federal prosecutor. “It may not show a physical assault, though it could show a sexual contact. I would expect that some evidence, even if equivocal, could support the accuser’s story. That’s why the testimony of witnesses is so important.”
Prosecutors planned to subpoena five witnesses and the accuser.
The list included her college classmate, an emergency room nurse and doctor at Valley Regional Medical Center in Brownsville, Texas, and two law enforcement personnel with the South Padre Island Police Department.
“You want to put on witnesses who could support the victim’s testimony,” Henning said. “But the key evidence is the victim.”
Registered nurse Nancy Nadeau was one of the six prosecution witnesses.
Nadeau, 53, worked at the medical center’s emergency room. On Friday, she told The News she does not remember anything about the accuser in the Patricia case.
In 1996, nurses would have been able to collect DNA evidence with the accuser’s permission, said Jennifer Pierce-Weeks, chief executive officer of the Maryland-based International Association of Forensic Nurses.
Within 72 hours, nurses could conduct tests on the accuser to search for the assailants’ DNA and hair samples, she said.
“All of those things were considered fairly typical back in the late 1990s,” Pierce-Weeks said.
The criminal case against Patricia and Dietrich disintegrated 10 months after the men were arrested. The accuser asked for the case to be dismissed because she “does not feel she can face the pressures or stress of a trial,” according to a handwritten note above the signature of Cameron County Assistant District Attorney Jacqueline Reynolds-Church in a Jan. 28, 1997, motion to dismiss the case.
The News obtained the court records one day after Patricia, 43, held a news conference and denied violently sexually assaulting the accuser in March 1996.
“Again, I think what’s important here, what happened 22 years ago is what didn’t happen,” he said. “As I said, I was innocent then and I am innocent now. I was falsely accused of something that I did not do.”
The accuser cannot refile charges against Patricia or Dietrich.
The statute of limitations expired in this case at least 12 years ago, said Cameron County District Attorney Luis Saenz.
The law has since changed, and there is no statute of limitation in Texas in aggravated sexual assault cases, he said.
Staff writers Tony Paul and Christine MacDonald contributed.