The jury trial for Kelly Rhinehart, of Fruitland, has been delayed as the defense is seeking a dismissal of Rhinehart’s charges related to sexual battery of a minor.
Originally slated for Feb. 3, the trial has now been changed to a status conference hearing, during which the court will make a decision on the future of Rhinehart’s trial based on the motion to dismiss filed by the defense, a response from the State of Idaho and a rebuttal by the defense.
Kelly Rhinehart, who was 52 at the time of the alleged incident, is facing five felony counts, including rape, one count of sexual battery of a minor (defined as lewd or lascivious acts) and three counts of sexual battery of a minor (defined as sexual contact but not lewd).
The judge for the trial was slated to be Davis VanderVelde, of Canyon County, as Payette County Judge Susan Wiebe issued a voluntary order of disqualification on Aug. 16, 2019.
According to the indictment, two of the counts of sexual battery of a minor stem from alleged incidents that happened between March 2, 2019 and April 29, 2019.
The rape charge, along with the sexual battery of a minor and one count of sexual battery of a minor are from an alleged incident on April 30 that same year.
6 reasons given in motion
The defense filed a motion to dismiss on Nov. 12, giving six reasons they believe the case should be dismissed. A list follows.
1. The defense alleges that the grand jury testimony of two of the victim’s friends are “inadmissible hearsay” in which they are repeating things they heard from the victim.
2. The defense alleges a testimony regarding Mike Fitch “prejudiced the grand jury and was without probative value.” The motion to dismiss declared that the victim in the Rhinehart case has also submitted a tort claim against former Fruitland High School Principal Fitch.
3. The defense alleges that a testimony that Rhinehart had been flashed by a teacher in his childhood was “inadmissible hearsay and prejudiced the grand jury without probative value.” According to the motion, a testimony that Rhinehart was flashed as a youth perpetrates a stereotype that those who are victims of sex crimes will relay those actions when they are older.
4. The defense alleges that Idaho State Police Detective Vickie Gooch was able to identify Rhinehart’s phone number, which “implies prior crimes on his part.” According to the motion, Gooch was able to recognize Rhinehart’s number as he was a witness for a previous case.
5. The defense alleges that testimony that there were deleted photographs in the text messages between Rhinehart and the victim prejudiced the grand jury without probative value.
6. The defense alleges many of the text messages between Rhinehart and the victim were not relevant to the charged conduct.
State response to motion
On Dec. 12, the state responded to the motion to dismiss, saying “the state requests the court to dismiss the motion to dismiss” and included responses to all six points the defense submitted.
“Rhinehart’s argument for dismissal was overly general and alleged due process violations without providing legal support,” the state’s response to the motion reads. “The likely reason Rhinehart was not able to imbue his motion with legal support is that Idaho Criminal Rule 6.6 lists four specific grounds for dismissal of an indictment. Rhinehart did not move to dismiss under any of the enumerated ground as they do not apply in this case.”
The state numbered its responses to the motion to dismiss, lining up with the motion.
1. In its response, the state claims that the grand jury testimony of two of the victim’s friends are more than hearsay, especially as one of the friends’ “testimony about the impact of the statements on her led to a chain of events and reaction by both [the victim] and Rhinehart that led to the State filing criminal charges.”
The State’s response also points out that the defense doesn’t at any point refer to any specific points in the testimony.
2. In response to the testimony regarding Fitch, the state says the defense’s argument that testimony was somehow prejudicial and could have inappropriately influenced the grand jury is without merit. The State also said that there is no evidence that the victim was previously abused by Fitch, as the tort claim filed in April alleged.
3. The state says Rhinehart being flashed by a teacher in his youth is relevant to the trial because Rhinehart “used that statement as a segue into discussing masturbation” with the victim. The state refers to the flashing incident something that “broke the ice” for Rhinehart, which eventually led to sexual activity.
The state adds that there is no logical line between flashing being a type of sexual abuse that would lead to the physical sexual abuse that is alleged on the indictment.
4. In the grand jury, Gooch said she knew the number in the text messages to be Rhinehart’s. When asked by grand jury how she knew it to be Rhinehart’s, Gooch said she confirmed the number through personal knowledge from a previous investigation and used sources such as local law enforcement, the victim and the victim’s attorney to make sure she was right.
The state added that the claim that Gooch’s prior knowledge was prejudicial or misleading was “disingenuous.”
5. While Rhinehart claims the photos that were deleted were of household items, the state claims it has contrary evidence that at lease one photo was of sexual nature. The state also added that it was a member of the grand jury that asked about the potential of photos among the deleted text messages, proving that the grand jury considered the probative value of the photos.
6. The state says that the defense questioning the relevance of the text messages between the victim and Rhinehart means the defense has a “misunderstanding of the law and the rules of evidence” as the text messages lay a foundation for a relationship that was built over a period of time between Rhinehart and the victim, which is a classic case of grooming.
The state claims that the bonds formed and the trust built were all instrumental factors leading to the charged offense.
‘Do not text/call
In relation to the text messages between Rhinehart and the victim, the motion shows that there were well over 1,000 messages between the two over the course of the year, when Rhinehart was a volunteer assistant track and field coach at Fruitland High School, according to the minutes from the Fruitland School Board of Trustees meeting in May. Rhinehart would resign from his position in 2019.
It is noteworthy that in the coaches handbook that was distributed in the 2018-19 meeting, which the Argus Observer acquired via a public record request, there is a section of dos and don’ts for track and field coaches and the first item is “Do not text/call athletes without having another FHS Coach in the text.”
The defense later submitted a rebuttal to the response on Dec. 20.