Truth, Lies, and Hockey
The NHL season is underway, and along with the usual endless afternoon drive debates of sleeper teams, breakout stars, and hacks past their prime, there is a much more sobering issue hovering over the players, executives, and fans of the sport. A sexual assault allegation that has polarized supporters and painted one of the league’s most dynamic young talents as either an irresponsible, self-destructive monster or a misunderstood, reformed victim of empty accusations.
Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane is at first glance an electrifying 26-year-old native of Buffalo, NY with blinding skill and a penchant for the dramatic. His overtime goal in Game 6 of the 2010 Stanley Cup Final ended the Blackhawks’ 49 year championship drought. He won the Conn Smythe trophy awarded to the playoffs’ most valuable player in 2013 during the Hawks’ second championship run. He represented the United States at both the 2010 and 2014 Olympics, and as of press time, is on pace for his best statistical season in 2015-2016.
But almost as long as Kane’s list of achievements, is his list of headline-worthy incidents.
He was arrested as a 20-year-old in 2009 along with his cousin for punching a taxi-driver after he claimed he did not have proper change for the Kanes’ $14.80 fare. Charges of second-degree robbery and fourth-degree criminal mischief were later dropped for a plea deal; Kane was given a conditional discharge in exchange for good behaviour and an apology to the driver.
In May 2012, the sports website Deadspin chronicled a particularly wild weekend in Madison, Wisconsin that had locals claiming Kane was belligerent, along with uncorroborated claims that he choked a girl and fought a student after calling him anti-Semitic names.
Following these incidents, Kane settled down in the public eye and stayed away from the spotlight. He led his team to yet another Stanley Cup victory in 2015, scoring the insurance goal in the final game versus the Tampa Bay Lightning on his way to gaining his third championship ring in six years. However, his celebratory summer back home in western New York was abruptly cut short after the Buffalo News reported on August 6 that a local woman alleged Kane brought her back to his waterfront mansion and raped her.
Law enforcement still has no definitive answer on what happened that night in August, but the facts available to the public paint the following story:
On August 1, Kane and a friend were at SkyBar, a popular rooftop hangout in downtown Buffalo where they met up with the alleged victim and her friend. All four were driven to Kane’s home in Hamburg, New York. Once in the house, the alleged victim says that Kane followed her into a room where she says he overpowered and raped her. She then went to the hospital for a rape examination where reports say she had a scratched leg and bite marks on both her shoulders. She then filed a report with the Hamburg police department.
In late September, sources told the Buffalo News that while Kane’s DNA was found under the alleged victim’s fingernails and on her shoulders, none was found in her genital area. Many experts were quick to point out that this does not exonerate Kane in any way, stating that condom use or lack of ejaculation is no proof that rape did not occur. Former District Attorney Frank J. Clark disagreed, saying the chance of a rapist using a condom was “extremely rare” and that the lack of DNA would be a “game changer”.
While the case awaited a Grand Jury hearing, events on September 23 transformed it from speculative to unprecedented.
On that day, the alleged victim’s attorney, Thomas Eoannu, presented evidence that the purported rape kit was on the alleged victim’s mother’s porch steps the day before—containing an unsealed and totally empty evidence bag. Eoannu claimed the bag was authenticated.
Public speculation exploded: was the bag left on the steps to intimidate the accuser or bring attention to possible interference with the bag’s contents while under police care? The image of tampered evidence juxtaposed with Kane attending Blackhawks training camp with the rest of his teammates made many on social media question the decision of both the Blackhawks and the NHL to allow Kane to practice, citing the negative impression their inaction may have on female fans.
Questions about the case multiplied exponentially the following day after Erie Country District Attorney Frank Sedita announced the real rape kit was safely in police hands, stating the evidence bag found at the mother’s house was not a part of the rape kit.
Sedita then dropped a bombshell: the victim’s mother was (by his account) perpetuating an “elaborate hoax”, claiming she found this bag anonymously and claiming it to be part of the rape kit—these actions, he said, may have derailed the chances of the case going to a grand jury.
However, Sedita cautioned not to “blame the accuser” in this situation. Eoannu then removed himself from representation, citing “ethical obligations”, throwing the future of the case into further turmoil. Finally, The Buffalo News reported on November 3 that the accuser no longer wished to cooperate with the investigation because of the great deal of stress to her and her family.
Ultimately, however, it is up to District Attorney Sedita to decide whether the case should continue. Many feel it is unlikely he will file charges due to the various questions currently surrounding the case, especially after Sedita commented that it would not be a matter of “when” the case will go to grand jury but “if” it goes to a grand jury.
The backlash—surrounding both Kane’s purported actions and how both the league and the Blackhawks have handled the situation—is deafening. Kane’s questionable past, coupled with his ambivalence towards the issue, has painted him guilty in the court of public opinion.
One of the most vocal critiques of this process came from Julie DiCaro. Her CBS Chicago article, “The Blackhawks’ Awful, Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Day”, slammed how Kane handled his press conference. The article pointed out that he “flubbed the most important line in his written statement ‘I am confident once all facts come to life, I will be absolved of having done nothing wrong’. Woops”. DiCaro also critiqued the Blackhawks organization and President John McDonough, who she says all but endorsed Kane’s side of the story by deciding to have him at training camp during the investigation.
DiCaro, a sexual assault victim herself, subsequently faced harsh backlash from Kane supporters on Twitter (almost entirely men) who called her a “skank”, a “whore”, and “hopefully Bill Cosby’s next victim”. One tweet stated she should “get hit in the head with a hockey puck by one of the Blackhawks and killed”. Finally, a specific threat concerning personal information and “the places [she] go[es]” forced DiCaro to stay home from work one day. This incident led to further discussion on social media on the dangers of victim blaming, hero worship, and other issues about the perception of a case, furthering the three-ring circus nature of the media coverage.
The idea that extraneous speculative evidence can seriously affect how a case is ruled should be an affront to every concept a law student learns in their first week of class.
But, according to Don Stuart, a criminal law professor at Queen’s University Faculty of Law, the fallout from this case can be directly linked to the American legal system’s process of determining guilt.
“The grand jury system [is] much more political than in Canada”, Stuart explained.
With a grand jury composed of laymen with no shield from conflicting coverage of the case, he likened media coverage to “throwing darts” at a board representing “the veracity of evidence”, which can change the perception of whether Kane is guilty or not.
“The idea that extraneous speculative evidence can seriously affect how a case is ruled should be an affront to every concept a law student learns in their first week of class.”
Professor Stuart differentiated this process from Canada, where a panel of 100 people would be screened down to a jury as free from bias as possible. However, he acknowledged that with the growing influence of social media, it may be difficult to eliminate this bias entirely.
Professor Stuart also said a case dealing with sexual assault particularly polarizes public opinion.
“Anyone who has experienced [sexual assault] is victimized for life… you can understand they would be feeling terrible about it,” he said.
However, he was also clear that those potentially wrongfully convicted would have an equally strong position adversely. Ultimately, the matter is not one to be decided on the basis of politics and public debate.
“This area has such strong views on both sides, and we need to trust independent judges and jury systems,” Professor Stuart said.
Regardless of what truly happened that night in August at Kane’s Buffalo home, public perception and confusing developments on both sides have skewed any notion of an objective and bias free process. If it is the case that Kane is innocent and the grand jury is dropped, he will probably never escape public guilt—fair or unfair—with opposing fans already chanting “no means no” whenever Kane and the Blackhawks come to town.
Even if he has reformed from his earlier hell-raising days, frustration from those who are tired of rich white males going free will mark a proverbial scarlet letter on his hockey jersey until the day he retires—no matter how great deference we are supposed to hold judicial decisions as fact.
If it is the case that Kane in fact did commit sexual assault but does not face a grand jury, which seems very possible given recent developments, his accuser will be yet another statistic of a woman who sees her aggressor go free. This only adds fuel to the fire for those who believe that women make up their claims of sexual assault in order to suck money from rich celebrities: an ugly theory that has adversely affected all victims of abuse.
Whether you believe Kane or his accuser, it is hard to deny surrounding media coverage has been anything but toxic to the legal process.
Editor’s Note: On November 5th, the district attorney announced that the investigation against Patrick Kane had been dropped.
Ethan Gordon is in 1L. He is a staff writer with Juris Diction.