Indecent Exposure Case Hinges on Naked Eye Contact
Last fall, Fairfax resident Erick Williamson was accused of indecent exposure after a woman and her young child walked past Williamson's house and saw him hanging out naked inside through an open door. Williamson's case hinged on the Virginia definition of indecent exposure, which requires three elements: exposure, intent, and obscenity. Williamson, now forever known as "Fairfax Naked Guy," admitted to the "exposure" part, but he claimed that he never intended for anyone to see him walking around his house naked—and certainly didn't bolster his nudity with any obscene gestures.
In a jury trial yesterday, Fairfax prosecutors attempted to prove Williamson's intent through his gaze: The offended woman, Yvette Dean, claimed that Williamson had looked her directly in the eyes as he stood there naked.
Dean, who was walking her 7-year-old son to work when she spied the naked Williamson, testified that "Williamson was holding his storm door open with one hand, and making eye contact with her." Williamson's lawyers attempted to cast doubt on the accusation by arguing that Williamson's storm door and the footpath Dean used to walk her son to school were so far apart that Dean couldn't possibly have ascertained exactly where Williamson was looking. According to the Washington Post:
Williamson's lawyers hired a private investigator to measure the distance from where Dean was standing to the carport door. Investigator John Hickey said it was 83 feet. A photo taken by the police, of the view from the path that Dean was on looking toward the house on Arley Drive, made it seem like quite a distance, and Dean said the photo was "closer than I was." Defense lawyer Dickson Young presented another photo taken from the path, and the carport door seemed very distant.
But in Young's closing argument, Williamson's defense took another tactic, arguing that Dean would never have looked him in the eye:
Young ridiculed the notion that Dean made eye contact with the naked man.
If a woman is "walking along and sees someone naked," Young told the jury in his closing argument, "the last thing they're going to be looking at is his eyes."
According to the seven-person jury, which found Williamson not guilty in all of 20 minutes, a single witness's claim of eye contact is insufficient evidence to convict a man of intentionally and obscenely exposing himself to his neighbors. And on a personal note, I'm opposed to any legal system that attempts to present all exposure as obscene. But how does that closing argument make any sense? To me, Young's bizarre assumption about how women ought to react to the sight of a naked man reads both as (a) an unnecessary accusation against Dean, implying that a truly offended woman would have immediately averted her eyes, and (b) a weird joke about how no woman could keep her eyes off his client's wiener.
Photo via Tambako the Jaguar, Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0