Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Ex-Sheriff’s Deputy Convicted in Mayhem, Sexual Torture Case

Aftermath of the Assault

Robert McClain was charged with multiple counts of torture, mayhem, kidnapping and sexual assault. Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckus summed up the case like this: “This is one of the most violent and sadistic crimes against two victims, who fortunately managed to survive… This is not only a shocking act from a person who supposedly loved his wife, but also from a police officer whose job was to uphold the law.” If convicted, McClain faced multiple life terms.

Held on $5 million bail, McClain pled “not guilty” and “not guilty by reason of insanity” so if the jury convicted McClain for the attack, there would be a second phase in which the jury would have to consider whether the defendant had the mental ability to determine right from wrong when the crimes were committed.

Trial

Opening statements in the trial of Robert McClain began on April 16, 2012 in a Santa Ana, California courtroom. Prosecutor John Christi outlined the tortures inflicted upon the lovers before a riveted jury. Defense attorney Darren Thomas said his client had no intention of hurting anyone before meeting his wife’s lover, but that the situation was “driving him crazy.”

Both victims testified against McClain at trial. The first witness was the defendant’s now ex-wife who told the jury that her former husband was so jealous that she learned to walk with her head down so she would not meet another man’s eyes. Through tears, she exclaimed, “He said that he took marriage very seriously. He said that if I ever cheated on him I would be nubbed away because he would cut all my limbs off.” That cruelty, she continued, was all too evident on the night of the attack. She recalled that before forcing her to leave the crime scene, he looked back at her young lover and said “I think he’s dead. How does that make you feel?”

The battle-scarred young man testified that while he could not remember the attack, he was constantly reminded by the psychological and physical pain. “I look in the mirror every day. I don’t like what I see,” he told the jury. Later in the trial, when photos of the young man’s wounds were entered into evidence, a juror fainted after viewing the wounds to the victim’s genital area.

The defense called witnesses like McClain’s aunt Joan Lawson to paint a more sympathetic picture of Robert McClain. Lawson said her nephew was an upstanding and trustworthy former Marine and sheriff’s deputy: “He’s not a violent person,” she maintained.

At the end of the case, prosecutor Christi again addressed the jury directly in his closing argument. Christi described McClain as a jealous, controlling and extremely violent man, who used his Marine training to beat and torture the lovers: “He did what he knew best.” Faced with an overwhelming amount of direct testimony against his client, McClain’s defense attorney Darren Thomas conceded that his client was guilty of domestic violence for the torture of his wife’s lover. Thomas argued that McClain was a “devoted husband and an exceptional father” who lost control when his wife came to her lover’s defense. Moreover, Thomas attacked the credibility of the ex-wife, pointing to various inconsistencies between her statements 3.5 years ago and her testimony on the stand as proof that she had “an additional agenda” to “bury” McClain.

On Tuesday, May 8, 2012, the jury retired to their deliberation room to decide the fate of Robert McClain.

Verdict

It would take the seven-man, five-woman jury nearly a week to return to Judge Gary Paer’s courtroom with a unanimous verdict on all counts. On Monday, May 14, 2012, the jury came back with a clean sweep for prosecutors as the panel found Robert McClain guilty of eight felony charges – including the most serious counts of torture, aggravated mayhem, spousal rape, sodomy by means of force, and false imprisonment.

However, because McClain’s defense posited a not guilty by reason of insanity plea, the trial will now be forced into a second phase in which the jury is asked to decide whether the defendant was able to appreciate whether his actions were right or wrong when the crimes were committed.

The insanity phase is set to begin the day after the verdict. If found legally insane, McClain will be committed to a mental institution indefinitely. If not, Robert McClain faces the prospect of life imprisonment.

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