The sexual-assault trial of fashion designer Anand Jon Alexander (known professionally as Anand Jon) ended on Nov. 13, as Judge David Wesley’s clerk began reading the first of 16 guilty verdicts, which could keep Jon behind bars for the rest of his life. He was accused of luring young and underaged women to his New York and Beverly Hills studios through the Internet.
For some of the women, the bait was a modeling job; for others it was simply the promise of a ride in the fast lane. However, all the women said that once they arrived at his studio-residence, Jon assaulted them.
For now, Jon, who once guest-starred on America’s Next Top Model, will only be competing to be America’s next top model prisoner. The district attorney’s original complaint contained 59 counts involving 20 women but was reduced to a leaner 23 counts, with nine accusers.
Jon was convicted of 14 felonies and two misdemeanors against seven of the nine women, including one forcible-rape charge and multiple counts of lewd acts upon a child. The India-born designer, who appeared in court last Thursday wearing a light gray suit and shiny gold tie, did not testify on his own behalf.
Some of Jon’s courtroom supporters had made the trial a highly partisan event — Judge Wesley angrily banned one young man for confronting in the hallway a defense witness about her testimony. The designer’s followers and critics fought a brutally un–civil war on the Comment pages of L.A. Weekly’s trial blogs. (See posts to Anand Jon Jury Shock.)
Jon’s followers denounced his accusers as prostitutes and wannabe porn actresses, while his critics gloated about Jon rotting in Hell for his alleged crimes. Before the verdicts were read in the packed courtroom, some of Jon’s supporters and family members bowed their heads or clasped their hands, as if in prayer.
The case had been presented by a pair of attorneys from the District Attorney’s Sex Crimes Division. The gregarious Frances Young and the more reserved Mara McIlvain always seemed cheerful, even as they unflinchingly asked their witnesses the coldly clinical questions that need to be answered in rape cases.
They were not the seasoned orators, however, that were Jon’s lawyers, who confidently roamed the courtroom like actors on a stage. Except for Elizabeth Roos, who didn’t participate in the examination of witnesses, Jon’s defense crew was all male. Perhaps mindful of public sympathy toward alleged rape victims, Donald Marks, Eric Chase, Anthony Brooklier and Leonard Levine all opened their cross-examinations with gentle bedside manners that suggested they were doctors who’d been summoned for a second opinion.
It was only as their interrogations proceeded that the defense lawyers made clear to jurors their scornful disbelief at what they were being told by the young women on the witness stand.
The D.A.’s case lacked any lab evidence to support innuendoes that Jon had slipped his alleged victims date-rape drugs, as well as any medical proof of rape or sexual battery. Prosecutors, however, had two powerful psychological weapons. The first was the supercharged nature of sexual-predator crimes. The second was the sheer volume of victim testimony, which played on where-there’s-smoke-there’s-fire expectations.
One woman, after all — maybe even two — might’ve been jilted girlfriends or disgruntled employees seeking payback through rape accusations. But nine? What woman would go through the grueling ordeal of public testimony at a rape trial simply to get back at a boss? In addition to the nine accusers, prosecutors brought in seven background witnesses who claimed Jon had similarly assaulted them.
“The cumulative effect of these counts was very prejudicial,” defense co-counsel Anthony Brooklier admitted after the verdicts were read.
Witness after witness broke down in tears as they recalled brutal encounters with Jon, and some had to call time-outs to regain their composure. And yet these women often proved to be their own worst enemies. Some had e-mailed Jon provocative photos of themselves, along with flirtatious comments, prior to their arrival at his apartments in New York and Beverly Hills. Others, after claiming they had little or no contact with him following their alleged molestations, had no plausible responses when confronted with phone bills and e-mail records that showed extensive and friendly communication with Jon.
The prosecution’s star witnesses — Holly G, Britny O and Amanda C — were also its shakiest. Jurors, in fact, acquitted Jon of four allegations made by Britny O, and one of the trial’s three deadlocked charges involved her.
Three lawyers presented the defense’s closing argument in virtuoso performances of indignation, sarcasm and shtick. Donald Marks might have been describing Mary Tilford, the rumor-spreading girl in Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour, when he denounced Holly G as the instigator of mischief against his client, saying the young woman “has infected this case from the beginning.”
Lenny Levine was the defense’s closer, following Tony Brooklier, and he repeated the team’s charge that Britny O had learned how to hack into Jon’s computer and passed that information on to police and the D.A.’s office. The peripatetic lawyer amused the courtroom several times by sitting in the witness chair, where he mockingly impersonated some of the women’s responses to cross-examination.
Levine, when not on his feet moving about the podium during the trial, had sat for two months biting his fingernails while listening to testimony. By the trial’s end he had the shortest nails in court.
In her rebuttal argument, prosecutor Young attempted to rehabilitate her witnesses, but her explanations sounded like excuses: The women were teenagers, they were confused, they were looking for work, they came from the sticks — all reasons, Young claimed, for the women to not have recognized a predator when he opened his apartment door to them.
Jon’s sister, Sanjana, attended trial every day, and the two coordinated the colors of his ties with her wraps in an apparent sign of sibling solidarity. Sanjana once told L.A. Weekly that all her family’s resources had been thrown into her brother’s defense, including the sale of the its ancestral properties in India.
Last Thursday, she sobbed inconsolably on the shoulder of a friend outside the courtroom, while a few feet away defense attorney Levine vowed to appeal the verdict.
Much of the appeal may focus on Juror No. 12, who, two weeks ago, the jury foreman had requested be removed for refusal to deliberate, a request denied by Judge Wesley. This seemed to portend a possible deadlock, but ultimately this was not to be. By verdict day, the panel went from being a hung jury to a hanging jury.
Defense lawyers almost routinely appeal convictions when a holdout juror is persuaded to go along with the majority for a conviction. “He hasn’t given up hope,” Levine said of Jon, “and neither have we.”
Young’s assessment of Jon was far different at a postverdict news conference, where she branded him as “a 34-year-old pedophile masquerading as a fashion designer.”
Young also noted that Jon’s mandatory life term enables him to be paroled only after he serves 67 years. For now, Jon will remain in custody and, following a Jan. 13, 2009, sentencing hearing, will face extradition requests for charges filed in New York and Texas.
There was one telling image after the verdicts were read, which may foreshadow Jon’s prospects: Judge Wesley had summoned to the bench counsel for both sides, and for a moment Jon was left by himself — a pale, lonely figure whose only sign of life was his shiny gold tie.