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Day three of Serna trial - No verdict reached by jurors

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Day three of Serna trial - No verdict reached by jurors

Dr. Juan Serna

    After deliberating more than three hours Wednesday, jurors still did not reached a verdict in the trial of Dr. Juan Serna, a Georgia Southern University associate professor charged with aggravated sodomy.
    Bulloch County Superior Court Judge William Woodrum told jurors to go home around 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, and to return to court for further deliberation today at 9 a.m.
        Serna, 46, is accused of sexually assaulting a former student and employee after a party at the victim's home at Woodlands Apartments April 28 and 29, 2006. The male victim was 19 at the time.
        The victim testified Monday, telling jurors Serna used a chemical called "Amsterdam poppers" to render him unable to fight back, then sexually assaulted him. He said Serna, who had made advances towards him before, returned after the party when everyone was gone home or in their rooms at the apartment, to share some expensive tequila.
        The victim was already intoxicated, having been drinking alcohol earlier that night. He told jurors Serna waved the chemical, which Georgia Bureau of Investigation crime lab chemists identified as alkyl nitrate, illegal in Georgia, under his nose several times, causing him to be unable to speak or prevent Serna from having sex with him.
        Serna testified Tuesday, telling jurors the sex was consensual and the victim agreed to inhale the Amsterdam poppers, which he said is often used in the gay community and relaxes involuntary muscles.
        Defense attorney Robert "Sims" Lanier began the day Wednesday by calling Serna back to the stand to respond to testimony Tuesday by former student Ron Harden, who told jurors Serna made sexual comments to him while on a class trip to Costa Rica, then gave him failing grades. Harden said Serna hinted that he could perform physical favors for better grades, and testified that the grades were changed after he returned to Georgia Southern University and appealed Serna's decision.
        Serna's testimony Wednesday involved positive evaluations regarding his performance, but Ogeechee Judicial Circuit Assistant District Attorney Daphne Jarriel asked about a conversation his superiors had with him regarding "keeping your personal life and professional life separate."
        She also asked Serna about an incident in 2002 when a Costa Rican family with whom he was staying during an educational trip complained about his actions, including bringing a man home to the host family's residence.
        Jarriel asked about Serna having to change to a different university in Costa Rica afterward, but Serna said the change was because of other reasons.
    Closing arguments and deliberation
    Usually closing arguments are initiated by the prosecution, followed by the defense and a rebuttal by the prosecution, but Jarriel waived the option and allowed Lanier to speak first.
        "We're not here to make a moral or ethical judgment," he told jurors. "We're here to make a legal judgment."
        He said he could think of "seven reasons an objective mind could find doubt" regarding Serna's alleged guilt.
        "What (the victim) says isn't true and can't be believed ... and can't be possible," he said. "On reflection, Dr. Serna tells you .. yeah, he made a bad decision."
        He recounted portions of the victim's testimony as well as that of other witnesses. Lanier told jurors the victim "had long dialogue" instead of giving short yes or no answers, and was "nervous as he can be, eyes darting and took up all the time talking .. evasive ... he knows his story just doesn't hold water."
        He called the victim "reasonable doubt in his own case" and said the victim never told Serna "no" during the encounter April 29, 2006.
        "You can't, after the fact, say 'I wish  that hadn't happened.' That isn't the refusal the state requires."
        Lanier also referred to the fact that the Amsterdam poppers were labeled amyl nitrate, although tests proved the substance was alkyl nitrite, and said Serna did not know the drug was illegal.
        Jarriel spoke to the jury next.
        "This trial has not been just about Dr. Serna," she said. "It's about (the victim) and his experiences and what he is concerned about.
        "At this point, you all know who Dr. Juan Antonio Serna is ... education is not his life ... if it were, he would not have done these things ... this man would have known better."
        Jarriel referred to testimony from other former students who did not know  the victim, and who shared details about being invited to Serna's home, where he showed pornography and offered them "Jungle Juice," another slang name for the same chemical known as Amsterdam poppers.
        "The reason we brought these other students in is to show you the real Dr. Juan Serna," she said. "There were very striking similarities in each of their stories. Why would a person show an 18-year-old person they just met ... turn on pornographic channels on TV? To arouse them ... and have sex with  them."
        Jarriel called Serna " a sick, perverted man who preyed upon students.  Ladies and gentlemen, he is not sorry. He is sorry he got caught."
        Serna faces charges of aggravated sodomy, sexual battery, possession of a dangerous drug and furnishing alcohol to underage persons.
        Jurors began deliberating at 2:25 p.m., and at 4:40 p.m. asked to see a copy of the victim's statement to police. However, Woodrum denied the request after Lanier objected, stating it was unfair to allow extra attention to only one part of the entire testimony and evidence submitted during the trial.
        Jurors are expected to continue deliberation today while another trial, that of Vandy Mack Daniel, accused of armed robbery, begins.
        Woodrum is also hearing that trial. Bulloch County Clerk of Court Sherri Akins said Woodrum will likely call for a recess in the Daniel trial when the jurors for the Serna trial reach a verdict. After a verdict is published, the Daniel trial will resume, she said.
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