The attempted rape and strangulation case against Clay Conaway is now in the hands of the jury.
Prosecutors, defense attorneys and Superior Court Judge Richard Stokes took the morning and early afternoon Feb. 19 to decide what charges the jury should consider in the case. The jurors are considering strangulation and attempted second-degree rape, but if they do not find Conaway guilty of attempted second-degree rape, Stokes told them they can consider third-degree sexual assault, a misdemeanor.
Conaway did not take the stand in his defense to counter testimony of a woman who said he tried to rape and strangle her in 2017 while the two were in Conaway’s bedroom in an off-campus home at University of Delaware.
Prosecutor Rebecca Anderson said for the woman, who was 20 at the time, there was no harm in going to Conaway’s home after connecting with him on the dating app Tinder. She said there was no harm in the two kissing on the end of his bed, but the woman never consented to being thrown onto the bed, groped and strangled.
“There’s no gray area here,” Anderson said. “It’s the defendant who shouldn’t have used his weight to push her around … This is not on the woman, it’s on the defendant.”
Defense attorney Joe Hurley asked the jury to ignore emotions that ran high during the trial. The woman cried, raised her voice and at times crossed her arms and sighed heavily into the microphone when questioned by the defense.
“She was getting upset because she didn’t have answers,” he said. “She is used to getting what she wants. You saw the hair, you saw the nails.”
Hurley pointed out inconsistencies including the details of the room where the alleged incident occurred. She testified about a wooden headboard that she hit her head on, which his parents and his landlord later testified was not there, and the woman said the room was full of Conaway’s trophies and awards, which others testified were not there.
The woman also said she felt isolated after the attack, but she met another guy on Tinder three days later, and they went on a date the next day. “Forty-eight hours after the most horrific experience of her life, and she’s out fishing,” Hurley said.
Hurley acknowledged that Conaway put his hands on the woman’s neck because he thought all girls like that - a possible reference to “Fifty Shades of Grey,” a racy book that contained scenes of erotic strangling.
“It was a strange situation,” he said.
Hurley questioned why the woman took months to file a Title IX sexual assault complaint with the University of Delaware and said the woman’s mother, an attorney who has handled many Title IX cases over the years, was encouraging her to make a complaint because Conaway didn’t compliment her or treat her nicely.
“[The woman] was pissed that he treated her that way,” Hurley said. “She has that controlling mother to deal with.”
On rebuttal, prosecutor Casey Ewart said the case comes down to consent.
“There is nothing wrong with sexual activity between adults, as long as there is consent,” she said. “He attempted to rape her and then strangle her without her consent. She has never wavered from any of that.”
Ewart said the incident was not a simple misunderstanding between the woman and Conaway. She said the woman fought him off several times before he tried to strangle her. The woman testified that using all her strength, she finally screamed at him to stop.
“If it was a simple misunderstanding, why didn’t he ask her to stick around and watch a movie like they had originally planned?” Ewart asked. “The scream is what made the defendant stop.”
As for inconsistencies in her testimony regarding details on Conaway’s room, Ewart said, “Don’t get bogged down in the minute details.”
Ewart said Conaway’s actions the night of the alleged attack show that he wanted to have sex with the woman, and just because he was unsuccessful doesn’t mean the attack didn’t happen.
“She had no reason to make up the story,” Ewart said. “She did not go looking for this.”
The jury meets at 9 a.m. Feb. 20 to deliberate.