An Anchorage man and former Alaska Yellow Cab driver accused of sexually assaulting a passenger he'd offered a free ride in August 2011 was found not guilty on Friday following a weeklong trial.
Jurors acquitted Chidiebere Nwokorie of all his charges, a total of four sex assault felonies.
Nwokorie's family uttered sighs of relief as Anchorage Superior Court Judge Kevin Saxby handed down the jury's decision; the victim quickly exited the courtroom before the judge dismissed the jury.
Defense attorney Joseph Van De Mark shook his client's hand, then Nworkorie crossed himself while still standing behind the defense table. Nworkorie tried to address the court after being declared a free man, but Van De Mark convinced him otherwise.
Assistant District Attorney Jason Gist said his argument did not change during the trial. He stayed with the state's version of events from opening statements to closing arguments.
The state charged the cabdriver with raping a woman in a service lot on Ship Avenue, in an industrial area northeast of downtown.
Gist said the woman was able to escape by distracting Nworkorie. She left behind some of her belongings, including her shoes in the back seat. Gist had argued the Air Jordans were left there because the defendant had forcefully escorted her to the back seat.
The prosecutor contended the jury could not shake their doubts about what really happened in the service lot.
"I think in cases like this when you have a he-said-she-said situation, and the jury looks at all of the evidence together, at the end of the day they decided they couldn't figure out what exactly happened," he said. "When they come to that conclusion, they can't convict someone."
Van De Mark declined to comment after the verdict was returned. During his opening statements, he argued the state was relying heavily on the credibility of the victim, who told police inconsistent stories. He said the woman's DNA was found on Nworkorie simply because of Nworkorie's daily contact with multiple people as a cabbie.
Outside the courtroom, Nworkorie thanked his wife for believing in him.
"She stood by me," he said.
Nworkorie said the person truly responsible for his acquittal was God. As he entered a courthouse elevator, he exclaimed that his life had begun anew.
Several moments later, shouting could be heard from across the street from the Nesbett Courthouse on Fourth Avenue. It appears the alleged victim and Nworkorie and his family had parallel-parked next to each other.
Nworkorie and another family member held back a woman who was yelling at the alleged victim, who was standing next to her car with the passenger door ajar. The alleged victim departed before three court officers made their way across Fourth and questioned Nworkorie briefly. Following a short exchange, Nworkorie and company piled into an SUV and drove off.