In the months since Sankarandi Skanda demanded the right to represent himself in court against charges of rape, robbery and burglary, his intensity appeared to wane.
On Thursday, the lanky man with thick eyebrows and close-cropped hair sat quietly at the defense table asking few questions of the state's witnesses. It was a far cry from the early days of the trial when he fashioned a defense based on a claim — which some called far-fetched — that he was being falsely accused by a woman who once asked Skanda to kill her husband.
Skanda, also known as Franklin Antill, was found dead inside his cell at the King County Jail early Friday. Authorities say that a noose he fashioned out of bedsheets was tied around his neck and a hefty stack of trial paperwork was jammed against the cell door in an apparent attempt to keep jail staff from getting inside.
This man's suicide came after Skanda, acting as his own attorney, violated court rules in his questioning of the rape victim in this case. From the interviews done with some of the jurors this man's accusations against his rape victim were viewed as completely non-credible and they would have found him guilty if the trial hadn't been halted because of Skanda's death.
If he had been convicted he likely would have been sent to prison for the rest of his life. The defense attorney who acted as his advisor described him as a man who wanted to be in control and the way this case ended was in Skanda's control while it seems to have been clear to him by his changing manner as the trial progressed that the verdict was out of his control.
I had noticed this case and was waiting until the trial ended to blog about it.
From the ABA Journal:
Skanda is accused of breaking into the accuser's Wallingford home and raping her at knifepoint while her children slept nearby. Skanda is also known as Frank Antill. He used that name until, while serving prison time for a similar assault in Idaho, he converted to Hinduism.
According to the Post-Intelligencer, when Skanda began asking questions on topics that the court had previously barred, Prosecutor Kays objected.
She argued, "This is a court of law, not a court of terror for him, and I can't help but believe he is getting off on terrorizing this woman again. He is thumbing his nose at this process and he's using it to terrorize this woman."
With the improvements in DNA technology more stranger rapists cannot rely on claims that the visual ID process was faulty and that the DA charged the wrong man. So when the evidence of sexual contact is overwhelming, it is tempting for stranger rapists and many attorneys representing them to use the stereotype about how women lie about rape as the defense.
This isn't the only rape trial where there has been no evidence to support the criminal allegations against the alleged victims. Unfortunately, sometimes a baseless counter accusation results in an acquittal. This often relies on assumptions about whether an alleged rapist understood that consent was absent.
This strategy is a tougher sell when a stranger rapist enters the rape victim's home. Jurors who believe that the person who doesn't want sex has the legal obligation to clearly communicate that lack of consent don't have the same expectation in burglary rapes. They understand that in this scenario that the victim may be raped before there is a chance to say no or that fear may prevent the victim from speaking or fighting. What many jurors fail to understand is that the same can happen in non-stranger rapes.
Supporters of this strategy of making counter accusations without supporting evidence may point to a case (as happened in the comments of the ABA Journal article) where the alleged victim or victims were arrested to support the defense's counter allegation that the original rape report was fraudulent, but that makes as much sense as supporting the prosecution of men on rape charges without evidence because other men have been convicted based on credible evidence.
Notably people who support casting baseless doubt on alleged rape victims repeatedly fail to mention cases where rape victims have been falsely charged or falsely convicted. Many times a lack of conviction of the alleged rapist is used to claim that that person might be innocent while that possibility of innocence is ignored when girls and women who reported being raped are described as false accusers despite a similar lack of conviction.