In her opening argument for Basim Dauwd Jami's trial for rape and abduction, defense attorney Lavonda Graham told the jury her client was an innocent man.
"HE DID NOT commit [these crimes]," she said. "This case is about credibility — who do you believe is telling the truth — and things aren't always as they appear."
As things turned out, the jury found Jami, of Centreville's Newgate community, to be more credible than his accuser, a homeless woman. And after a trial lasting little more than a day, the jury of six men and six women acquitted him of both charges.
Fairfax County police arrested Jami (AKA David Lee Jackson), 43, on July 13, 2005, following the woman's accusations, and his trial played out Jan. 10-11 in Circuit Court.
The victim, 45, grew up in Vienna, but has been homeless, off and on, for the past four years. At the time of the alleged incident, she was staying in a friend's van parked behind the Dunkin' Donuts at Fairfax Circle. It's near the Lamb Center, where people lacking shelter may shower, do laundry, use computers and look for work.
She told the court that, on July 11, 2005, between 10 p.m. and midnight, a man she didn't know came to the van while she was asleep in the front seat. She said he told her he was looking for her cousin Gloria, who also had no fixed address, and wanted her to help him find Gloria.
"He said her mother was in the hospital," said the woman. So, she said, even though he was a stranger to her, she agreed to go with him. "I let my heart outweigh my mind and said I'd show him where some of her hangouts were," she said.
Then, said the woman, she was distracted while they talked in his car on their way to look for Gloria. And the next thing she knew, they were driving down a gravel road in a secluded cemetery somewhere west of Shirley Gate Road.
There, she said, while outside the car, he asked her to have sex with him and slapped her when she refused. She said she finally gave in to him, in the back seat of the car because "I was afraid I would be killed that night."
LATER THAT DAY, July 12, she reported the alleged incident to police and also gave them the man's license-plate number. Then on July 13, after the suspect — later identified as Jami — returned twice to the same parking lot where he'd picked up the woman, witnesses notified police and Jami was arrested. Police charged him with rape and abduction with intent to defile.
During his trial, the woman said he'd only referred to himself that night as "D." And whenever Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Ian Rodway asked her for details of her attack or showed her photos of the area where it allegedly took place, she became upset on the stand and began to cry.
Jami's other defense attorney, George Wooditch, did most of the questioning and asked the woman if she'd gone there with Jami "to have sex with him to pay off the debt" she owed him for drugs. But she denied ever seeing him before and said she didn't owe him any money.
"You didn't offer to have sex with him?" asked Wooditch. "I had just lost a boyfriend [who'd drowned accidentally, a couple weeks earlier]," she replied. "I didn't plan to have sex with any man."
In his closing argument, Wooditch said Jami and the woman drove off, July 12, and "went looking for money" so she could pay what she owed him. But, said Wooditch, "She didn't have any and she was scared about what would happen [to her]."
Jami, himself, testified that he made $6,000 a month selling drugs and, earlier, he'd sold crack cocaine to the woman and it was time for her to pay up, so she did so by sleeping with him. Furthermore, added Wooditch, the woman did know Jami, but "as David, not D — and his name is David."
Rodway said the woman wasn't lying about knowing him and the incident wasn't consensual, but was actually a rape. "The defendant said, 'It was play for pay; she owed me $180,'" said Rodway. "But [her] story has always been consistent as to what happened. She's never been convicted of a felony, and we can't penalize her for being homeless."
Before the jurors began their deliberation, Judge Randy Bellows told them their verdict had to be "unanimous and based on what you, yourselves, believe." And in the end, they believed Jami and found him not guilty of either charge.