‘A night in the hot tub’: Testimony begins in sexual battery trial for Rankin County tax assessor

John Sullivan claims sex was consensual, refutes state’s charge that 19-year-old girl was physically helpless
Published: Aug. 7, 2023 at 8:18 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

RANKIN COUNTY, Miss. (WLBT) - Nearly a year after he was indicted on three counts of sexual battery, Rankin County Tax Assessor John Sullivan found himself in a courtroom surrounded by a jury of his peers, his attorney arguing the sex was consensual, and the victim was lying.

Merrida Coxwell told the jurors — two of whom are female — that the type of sexual battery Sullivan is charged with relies on the presumption that the victim is physically helpless and said surveillance video from Sullivan’s house will disprove that claim.

Special Assistant Attorney General Lindsay Cranford said she plans to introduce video evidence and interviews that will prove Sullivan’s guilt, though she did not elaborate further.

It’s not clear yet whether the state will introduce anything from our investigation last year, after 3 On Your Side obtained body camera and dash camera video of Sullivan during a traffic stop on March 26, 2022, for careless driving.

Some of the video showed a drunken Sullivan bragging to a Byram officer about getting women in his hot tub, calling them “whores” and expletives.

That officer, Shawn Walters, offered brief testimony Monday on those exchanges.

“He said it was going to be a good night in the hot tub, a good night of sex, p***y and lust,” Walters said.

Walters did not tell the jury the stop resulted in Sullivan being charged with driving under the influence but did tell them Sullivan made the remarks less than two hours before the rape allegation, which our investigation revealed.

Coxwell has argued in previous motions that the “locker room” comments during the traffic stop should not be allowed because they would prejudice his client.

Sullivan is included on the defense’s witness list, meaning the jury could hear from him this week.

If convicted on all four counts — three of sexual battery and one of simple assault — Sullivan would be removed from office and could face up to 30 years for each sexual battery charge.

Want more WLBT news in your inbox? Click here to subscribe to our newsletter.

See a spelling or grammar error in our story? Please click here to report it and include the headline of the story in your email.