‘Evidence was compelling’; D.A. says ‘guilty’ verdict is a message from Strain’s accusers
COVINGTON, La. - Former St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Jack Strain faces a lifetime prison sentence after being found guilty on all counts for sex crimes that include charges related to rape and incest.
Strain was convicted on four counts of aggravated rape, two counts of aggravated incest, one count of indecent behavior with a juvenile and one count of sexual battery. The verdict was a clean sweep for prosecutors who brought forth a case built on allegations that in some cases were more than 40 years old.
Five victims, some of them relatives, testified at this trial, sounding similar themes of looking up to Strain as an older brother or father figure and having their trust betrayed when he molested or raped them in tents, campers, and in his bedroom. The sexual abuse continued into adulthood in many cases.
The jury came in with a verdict after nearly five hours of deliberations at the end of a trial that lasted two full weeks.
Sheriff’s deputies did not handcuff Strain inside of the courtroom.
It was an emotional scene for his family as Strain handed his family his tie and gave them some tearful, extended embraces.
Walking out of the courthouse opposite of the prosecution’s announcement, Strain’s attorney Billy Gibbens declined to comment on the verdict.
District Attorney Warren Montgomery said that there were challenges without DNA evidence in the case, but an incredible amount of preparation with the evidence available and testimony from five victims was enough to bring down Strain, who was once the most powerful man in the parish, he said.
Ultimately, Strain’s alleged victims sent the message to the former sheriff after being without a voice for so many years, Montgomery said.
“The evidence here was compelling,” Montgomery said in a press conference following the verdict. “The most important part of this case was the preparation here.”
Despite former high-ranking law enforcement status, Strain was brought to justice and Montgomery said that laws apply to anyone guilty of doing the crime.
“It shows that no one is above the law and it also shows our system works,” Montgomery said. “It shows that our system, while not perfect, works. It shows American citizens should have trust in the American system of justice and that it can police itself.”
Strain’s defense intimated at a conspiracy, trying to convince jurors the charges brought against him by political enemies collaborating against him. Montgomery said that it would have taken a “mastermind” to get multiple agencies of law enforcement to coordinate a false case against Strain.
“In the end, the jury didn’t buy it,” Montgomery said.
Montgomery said that the prosecution was contacted by even more individuals that claimed to have been victims of Strain and said he believes there are more victims than the five that testified in court. He said that ultimately the prosecution felt they had enough evidence to move forward in the case without having to bring more alleged victims to the stand.
Patricia Finn, the mother of victim Mark Finn, said she believes the verdict will allow her son to go forward and improve his life.
Strain hugged his family, was fingerprinted and remanded into custody, his bond revoked. He still faces another federal trial in December on a halfway house corruption scheme.
Prosecutors and Strain’s defense team wrapped up their closing arguments Monday just before 2:30 p.m. Both sides rested their cases on Friday without testimony from Strain.
“Jack Strain was the ultimate manipulator,” prosecutor Elizabeth Authement said. “He knew how to keep his victims quiet. An expert predator, who thought he could get away with it forever.”
“His whole life is a lie. From the moment he put his hands up to swear his oath, he’s already raped three people,” prosecutor Collin Sims said.
Strain’s attorney, Billy Gibbens, says the case was fabricated by the government.
“This has been a government-manufactured case against Jack Strain using coercion and manipulation,” Gibbens said during closing arguments. “The state wants you to convict Jack and send him to prison the rest of his life based on 45-year-old allegations.”
“All of these people lying about being raped by another male. All who identify as heterosexual. No way,” Sims said. “He should’ve been a friend, a big brother, a sheriff, but he wasn’t. He had an insatiable taste and he didn’t care.”
Over the course of the trial, prosecutors called five alleged victims to the stand who said Strain preyed on them and raped them dating back to their childhoods. The first day of the trial was dramatically interrupted when an alleged victim became incensed while recalling his abuse.
“Do you remember that? I want him to stand up and admit it. He’s a coward!” Skip Keen said.
Defense attorneys claimed Keen was “swarmed” by the FBI and coerced into testifying against Strain.
“The FBI shows up, swarms Skip Keen, and he knows he’s in trouble,” Gibbens says. “And he says ‘Jack molested me.’ He’s using it as a get-out-of-jail-free card.”
One of the alleged victims, a next-door neighbor, was 10-years-old when he says the abuse began. He testified Strain was like a father to him and the abuse often made him feel awkward and confused. The incidents allegedly happened on hunting trips and family vacations.
Another victim, a relative, alleged that Strain raped him in an elevator when the two were visiting a dying family member.
“It’s about time that Mark Finn feels like somebody is going to do something and maybe there’s hope for the future,” Authement continued. “It’s time for all five of these people to get the justice they deserve.”
Finn told jurors he was raped repeatedly between the ages of 6 and 11 at a pond, in the Strain family barn, as well as inside their home. He testified that Strain anally raped him to the point that he bled.
“He did this numerous times ... all the time in the pond,” Finn testified. “He would tell me, ‘Don’t say anything ... You better not go and say anything.’”
Strain was six years older than Finn when the alleged abuse occurred.
The defense team denied the allegations and rested their case quickly Friday without calling any additional witnesses and without Strain testifying himself, which he was not required to do.
Strain’s wife says she had no knowledge of the allegations and the two of them had very little conversation about it.
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