TRENTON, N.J. (CN) – A former Rutgers University professor convicted of raping a 29-year-old man with cerebral palsy on her office floor will get a new trial because she wasn’t allowed to present evidence that he consented to the relationship, New Jersey’s appeals court ruled Friday.
Marjorie Anna Stubblefield, who in 2015 went on trial for having sex with the man—called D.J. in court documents, and who wore a diaper and had the mental capacity of a toddler – after being asked by family members to help D.J.
During therapy, Stubblefield employed a controversial approach called facilitated communication, where the therapist uses physical assistance to help the subject communicate.
In D.J.’s case, Stubblefield used a small portable keyboard to help D.J. communicate, guiding his hand as he typed.
Over two years of therapy, the physical connection between Stubblefield and D.J. grew and she later visited D.J.’s parents and claimed they were “deeply in love,” something she would also tell the New Jersey trial judge hearing her case.
She then kissed him as the family looked on, shocked.
According to press reports, when Stubblefield got naked for the first time in front of D.J., he typed into his portable keyboard, “I’ve dreamed about this.” She then reportedly pulled down his pants, loosened his diaper, and performed fellatio on him.
They would later attempt to have sex on her office floor, with Stubblefield even prompting D.J. at one point to watch porn. After a failed attempt, they eventually consummated their relationship in her office.
At the time of the affair, Stubblefield was 39 and married with two children. D.J. was 29 and living at home.
When Stubblefield broke the news of the affair to D.J.’s family, they did not believe he could communicate as she said. They posed questions that D.J. alone could answer, which he reportedly got wrong, according to court records.
Against the family’s wishes, Stubblefield continued to contact D.J. The family eventually reported her to administrators at Rutgers, who then passed the complaints along to the Essex County prosecutor.
A jury disagreed that the two were in a consenting relationship and found Stubblefield guilty of first-degree aggravated sexual assault. The judge sentenced her to two 12-year prison terms, to be served concurrently, as well as lifetime parole supervision.
However, the former professor claims she never got to fully present her case that D.J. was misdiagnosed, and that he can in fact communicate with her by typing responses to questions on a small portable keyboard.
Prosecutors relied on three experts in speech pathology and psychology to make the case that D.J. did not have the capacity to make independent decisions and that he required a guardian.
Stubblefield – who says she was introduced to facilitated communication, or FC, via her mother, a psychologist and retired university professor of special education – vehemently tried to claim her methods were successful and that D.J. could make independent decisions.
During trial, Stubblefield attempted to bring her own expert to testify that D.J. could communicate and read. Australian communications expert Rosemary Crossley found that D.J. answered 43 out of 45 questions correctly using a carpet board with “yes” and “no” printed on it.
However, the court suppressed the testimony, finding the questioning amounted to FC and was therefore unreliable.
The trial judge also barred another witness from testifying that D.J. had successfully audited a college course at Rutgers using FC.
However, in a ruling issued Friday, the New Jersey Superior Court’s Appellate Division found that excluding both witnesses, as well as not allowing Stubblefield to cross-examine D.J.’s brother, deprived Stubblefield of a fair trial.
“Unfortunately, the [trial] court, in its attempt to cleanse the record of controversial FC methodology, limited the evidence to the extent that [Stubblefield] was not given a fair opportunity to present her defense,” Judge Ellen Koblitz wrote in the opinion.
“The jury was not presumptively gullible,” Koblitz continued. “It did not have to be shielded from employing its common sense to fairly evaluate the testimony from both sides.”
The appeals court reversed Stubblefield’s convictions and remanded the case for a new trial.
Koblitz also called for the retrial to be held before a different judge, as the original trial judge referred to Stubblefield as “an example of a predator preying on their prey” during sentencing.