Jury acquits Saranac Lake man of rape on Paul Smith’s campus

SARANAC LAKE — A jury lifted a huge burden from a Saranac Lake resident Thursday when it found him not guilty of sex crimes that could have sent him to prison for as many as 50 years.

Last May, State Police investigators arrested Anthony Chandler, 35, and charged him with first-degree rape. Later, a second charge of first-degree criminal sex act was added. Each is a class B violent felony that carries a sentencing range of five to 25 years in prison.

A woman said Chandler had used physical force to have sexual intercourse with her on the Paul Smith’s College campus, where they both were students at the time in spring 2018, and also that he forced her to perform oral sex on him. He claimed the sex was consensual.

The trial began Monday in Franklin County Court in Malone before Judge Derek Champagne. Testimony began Tuesday when jury selection wrapped up. The attorneys — Chief Assistant District Attorney David Hayes prosecuting and Greg LaDuke of Lake Placid defending Chandler — made their closing arguments Thursday morning, and the jury was given the case around 10:30 a.m. Around 11:30 they requested read-backs of the accuser and defendant’s testimony, which took some time. Shortly after that finished, the jury announced it found Chandler not guilty.

“It was very clear from the read-backs, from the way I cross-examined her … her specific allegations of how the sexual assaults occurred were completely different from her allegations from the last few months, including last May,” LaDuke said by phone shortly after the verdict was read.

Hayes admitted there were some discrepancies in the woman’s story but said that is not uncommon when someone is raped and has “to tell the story again and again.”

LaDuke also said a rape kit done for the alleged victim “came back completely and thoroughly negative for any trauma.” Hayes, however, said, “Physical injury is not an element of the two crimes that were charged.”

Overall, Hayes said, “I’m obviously disappointed, but I always respect the verdict of a jury. It doesn’t change my position or my office’s position that we’ll continue to prosecute allegations of sexual assault arising out of campuses.”

LaDuke said Chandler was out of jail on bond, working and living in Saranac Lake in the 10 months between his arrest and trial.

“You’re in limbo … because you have this hatchet hanging over your life,” LaDuke said.

LaDuke said Paul Smith’s College “booted” Chandler, and that he and his client ignored the school’s process of investigation and discipline because there was no chance of winning. The lawyer was scathing in his criticism of the way colleges such as Paul Smith’s handle sexual assault allegations.

“These schools like that, they have a totalitarian system,” LaDuke said. “You have no ability to defend yourself. You are considered not only guilty but evil upon accusation.

“We didn’t participate in their star chamber witch hunt.”

When campus sexual assault became a larger national concern a few years ago, colleges adopted internal procedures for handling cases that were different from those of police and the courts, where rape charges are notoriously hard to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. Over the last eight years, hundreds of those expelled from colleges for sexual assault have filed federal lawsuits, saying they were denied due process, according to a March 15 report in the Detroit Free Press. And many of these plaintiffs are winning their cases, even as the #MeToo movement continues to gain ground against sexual harassers and abusers.