A man indicted for eight felony rape counts and one misdemeanor assault defeated all of the charges in a jury trial that ended on Jan. 20.
Mark Anthony Kowalik, 30, of Lexington Park, was found not guilty following a four-day trial. The jury did not deliberate very long in the afternoon of Jan. 20. They were dismissed at 2:30 p.m.
Suzanne Houle, an Annapolis-based defense attorney, made closing arguments on behalf of Kowalik. Her coworker, Michael McGraw of the Cochrane and Chhabra law firm, handled most of the trial. McGraw said he could not make closing arguments because he lost his voice. “[Houle] did an excellent job at the last minute trying to put together a closing argument,” he said.
“I’ve never had a verdict like that in a sexual assault trial,” McGraw added, noting that Kowalik faced up to four life sentences if convicted. McGraw said he has 16-plus years of trial experience.
“It wasn’t an easy case,” Houle said in an email, “but we had a jury that really took in all of the evidence presented, put the pieces together, and rendered a fair verdict.”
Assistant State’s Attorney Sarah Proctor handled most of the trial for the prosecution before giving way to Ashley Sowls for closing arguments, according to McGraw.
“They told you it was consensual sex, very long, rough sex,” Sowls told the jury, referring to the defense’s version of events from Feb. 7, 2021.
Sowls noted that Kowalik had a constitutional right not to testify but did so.
Kowalik was indicted on Aug. 1, 2022. Circuit Court Judge David W. Densford unsealed the indictment on Aug. 18 following Kowalik’s arrest on Aug. 17. Kowalik was charged with four different sex acts, including first- and second-degree rape for each.
According to Sowls, the 25-year-old alleged victim said she had been drinking at a party and couldn’t remember everything. The indictment said the alleged victim was impaired by alcohol and physically helpless. In addition, it said Kowalik grabbed the alleged victim by the neck.
“The state’s case does not make sense,” Houle told the jury, noting Kowalik and the alleged victim met on Snapchat and talked for several weeks before meeting in person. The conversation turned sexual after two or three weeks, and one photo from the social media site depicted the alleged victim bent over asking for sex, Houle said, noting the woman had a boyfriend in Virginia for four years with whom they had a child in common.
“Her demeanor completely changed when she saw hickeys on her neck in the bathroom afterward,” Houle said. “Her boyfriend was coming to visit.”
Houle said the alleged victim testified on Wednesday, Jan. 18, and then again on Thursday, Jan. 19, when the defense called her. “Her appearance was very different,” Houle said. “The difference was stark.”
“[Kowalik] was single at the time,” Houle said. [The alleged victim] is still with the boyfriend,” she said, noting they now live in Texas.
After the sexual activities, the alleged victim asked Kowalik to take her home, Houle said. “He said he offered her an Uber, and she declined. He took her home, but she said he put a gun in her back pocket. Very odd,” Houle said.
Houle noted that a nurse who testified said there were no injuries to the alleged victim’s private parts or apparent injuries below her shoulders.
The nurse also testified that there were no signs of strangulation on the alleged victim’s eyes, scalp, neck, ears, and under her tongue, Houle said, noting these are areas where one would expect such after strangulation.
A DNA expert testified there was no male DNA in the alleged victim’s private parts, Houle said.
“He said what would’ve left a mark is when he strangled her, nibbled on her back, and smacked her butt cheeks,” Sowls said, relating that Kowalik said the alleged victim said, “Choke me, daddy.”
Sowls added that Kowalik said, “that wasn’t his type of thing, and he didn’t apply much pressure.”
The alleged victim had a bruise on her shoulder, Sowls said, noting that she pushed back, which Kowalik denied.
The alleged victim said Kowalik bit her lip, and blood dripped into her hand, Sowls said, adding that Kowalik licked her hand.
Sowls said the alleged victim also had bruises on her arm, adding that Kowalik said they could be from anything.
The alleged victim said that a 6-hour exam at a Prince George’s hospital was “just as bad as the rape,” Sowls said, noting the woman was “swabbed head to toe … [Photos of] her private parts have been passed around this jury. What’s the benefit?”
The prosecution called at least 10 witnesses, including law enforcement officers James Bare, Alec Naessens, Tyler Payne and Megan Roberts. The defense called Kowalik and the alleged victim.
Circuit Court Judge Amy D. Lorenzini presided over the trial. On Jan. 17, she approved several character witnesses presented by the defense, including Logan Pancoast of Virginia Beach, Steven Truckenmiller of Poquoson, Va., Bertrand Aimalefoa of Lexington Park and Kay Mammola of Hollywood.
According to his LinkedIn page, Kowalik is a firefighter in Newport News and an aircraft mechanic with DynCorp International at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station. He declined to comment for this story, according to McGraw.
“We believe we should not second guess a jury’s verdict,” said ALisa Casas, communications director for the state’s attorney’s office.