A South Carolina jury on Monday acquitted a man accused of raping two teen girls in an underground bunker last year.
Kenneth Glenn Hinson wiped his eyes and mouth and appeared to cry after the jury said he was not guilty of kidnapping, sex crimes and assault with intent to kill. "I think the verdict says it all," he said as he was escorted from the courtroom.
The verdict followed about four hours of deliberations over two days. Hinson had faced a mandatory life sentence without parole under the state's two-strikes law because he was convicted of rape in 1991.
Authorities said the 48-year-old Hinson snatched the then-17-year-old girls from their bedroom last year and dragged them one at a time to a secret underground room beneath a tool shed, where he raped and left them bound with duct tape. Prosecutors said Hinson expected the girls to die because the room had no air supply.
But during the six-day trial, Hinson said the girls had consensual sex with him. He said they made up the story so they would be able to take drugs from the underground room, where he stored marijuana.
The accusers were not in the courtroom when Hinson was acquitted. Their mothers and other relatives wept. They declined to comment after the verdict.
The room under Hinson's tool shed was about the length and width of a mid-sized car with a ceiling about 4 1/2 feet high. He testified Sunday about how he carefully built the room over two years.
Prosecutor is shocked
During the trial, defense attorney Rick Hoefer had suggested the teens set the whole story up so they could take marijuana from the underground room without Hinson’s being able to retaliate.
Hoefer spent much of his nearly two-hour closing argument Sunday picking apart what he called inconsistencies in the teens' testimony, like how long it took to call 911 and whether they saw Hinson with a gun.
Prosecutors said any discrepancies in their stories might be because of the trauma the teens went through.
"We are shocked and stunned. We believed Mr. Hinson was guilty as charged. We still believe he is guilty as charged,' said Attorney General Henry McMaster, who helped prosecute the case.
Hinson was not immediately freed. He was being held on a federal firearms charge because he had a gun when he was arrested. Convicted felons are not permitted to carry weapons.