Juror dismissed, alleged victim testifies as sexual battery trial for Rankin County tax assessor enters third day

Published: Aug. 10, 2023 at 2:46 PM CDT
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BRANDON, Miss. (WLBT) - The woman whose initial rape claims triggered a state investigation against Rankin County Tax Assessor John Sullivan testified before a nearly all-male jury Wednesday, telling the court she had blacked out minutes before the encounter.

Wednesday’s proceedings also included testimony from a toxicologist and several investigators.

In an unexpected turn of events, Judge Ratcliff also dismissed one juror from the proceedings with no explanation.

However, the most significant witness in the case was the alleged victim, whose name will not be revealed here due to WLBT’s policy regarding victims of sex crimes.

The woman, then 19 years old, said she and a few friends had several drinks at Dockery Grill in Byram on March 25.

Unbeknownst to her at the time, the man she talked to that night -- Jonathan Cline -- was good friends with Sullivan and encouraged the girls to join him for an after party featuring a hot tub.

The woman briefly met Sullivan at the bar that night, too, turning down a drink he tried to offer her.

Sullivan would later leave Dockery Grill and get stopped by Byram police for careless driving with several women in his vehicle that night.

Details of his arrest, intoxication and statements made to Byram officers are not allowed into evidence in his sexual battery trial, however.

Rankin County Circuit Judge Steve Ratcliff made the decision to limit almost all of the information gained from that arrest -- first unearthed in detail by WLBT last year.

The woman told the court she went back to what she thought was Cline’s home and got into the hot tub.

At some point, she said she blacked out and didn’t remember anything until minutes later, when she was in Sullivan’s bedroom.

She said she heard her friends screaming outside the bedroom door and then realized she was being violated.

Once the door opened, she told the court she saw Sullivan for the first time since the bar.

Sullivan also addressed the jury Wednesday, too, through interviews by Mississippi Bureau of Investigation agent Josh Dority.

The hour-long audio recording revealed Sullivan admitted to grabbing the woman by the neck and throwing her down, but some details of the evening differed from hers.

Sullivan’s attorney, Merrida Coxwell, pressed Dority, arguing that his line of questioning during the MBI interview tried to coerce Sullivan into admitting to something he didn’t do.

“You wanted him to say she was passed out, didn’t you?” Coxwell said.

“No, I wanted him to tell me the truth,” Dority responded back.

Coxwell said Sullivan said multiple times that the girl had given him consent and that she was not passed out.

“Did you hear him say that she was moaning? Did you hear that?” Coxwell said.

Dority said Sullivan did mention that.

“If you’re moaning, you’re probably not passed out, are you?” Coxwell said.

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