A judge says the media has misconstrued his handling of a divorce case that preceded charges of sexual assault involving the same couple and prompted lawmakers to outlaw marital rape in Utah.
Third District Judge Richard Moffat said news organizations misunderstood his ruling regarding Debra Locke, who says she was raped repeatedly and sodomized by her ex-husband after leaving the divorce proceedings Nov. 5.Salt Lake County prosecutors have been uncertain how to handle the charges because the man charged with assaulting Locke may technically have been her husband. Under state statutes at the time, a person could not be prosecuted for raping a spouse.
Locke says her ex-husband, David Coon, left a halfway house and abducted her from the Metropolitan Hall of Justice. She had been at a hearing that morning, during which Moffat granted her a divorce from the bench, but did not sign all the paperwork immediately.
Prosecutors initially were reluctant to charge Coon with the assaults, because of the lack of documentation. But Moffat said the paperwork does not have to be signed in order for the divorce to be final and binding.
"I'm not trying to cause trouble," the judge said. "But this misunderstanding has made the judicial system look bad and made me look like I failed to do something I should have done. I just think it would be better if everything was clear."
Following a preliminary hearing Tuesday in 3rd Circuit Court, Coon was bound over to stand trial on charges of forcible sodomy, aggravated kidnapping and escape from prison.
The divorce hearing last fall had been initiated by Coon, who filed a motion from prison saying Locke was in contempt of an earlier ruling by Moffat.
The judge had previously ordered Locke not to allow the couple's children near a paroled child molester Coon had known at Utah State Prison.
Moffat said Locke's testimony about the marriage made it clear "she needed a divorce."
"Neither Ms. Locke nor her attorney were aware a divorce would be heard that morning and had not prepared any of the paperwork," Moffat said. "So I couldn't have signed any documents even if I wanted to, and that's not anyone's fault. That's how it's done sometimes."
The ruling from the bench is binding enough, the judge said. The decision was entered immediately by a clerk in a minute entry and was an official ruling.
Prosecutors remain nervous about the bench ruling, however, and have asked for a special hearing to determine if Locke was legally divorced.
Moffat said he spoke with the prosecutors about the judgment and said he would render the decision "nunc pro tunc," meaning it would be binding from the moment it was uttered.