The trial of 78-year-old Henry Rayhons began last week; the former Iowa state legislator was arrested last year, accused of having sex with his wife Donna,
who was in a nursing home and suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Staff members told Rayhons eight days before the incident allegedly occurred that they didn’t believe Donna was capable of consenting to sex.
Rayhons is being charged with felony sexual abuse in the third degree. As the New York Times points out, the charges are “rare, and possibly unprecedented.” Rayhons served nine terms in the state legislature. He and the former Donna Young married in 2007. Donna’s daughter Linda Dunshee was the person who called the police and pressed charges after her mother’s roommate said in May 2014 that Rayhons had come to visit and pulled the curtains closed around the bed. The roommate said she then heard “sexual noises,” according to several reports. Rayhons deposited his wife’s underwear in a hamper as he left. Donna died August 8, just before her 79th birthday. Rayhons was arrested three weeks later.
In her testimony on Friday, Dunshee said going through the prosecution of her stepfather had been “absolutely horrific,” and denied accusations from the defense that she’d only pursued criminal charges against Rayhon because she felt “bitterness” towards him. The defense is contending that Rayhons fought with two of Donna’s daughters over their decision to put their mother in a nursing home.
The defense portrayed Rayhons as a “lovebird,” who simply wanted to continue having a normal physical relationship with his wife. The prosecution, though, has described him as “selfish,” saying that when the staff told him Donna couldn’t consent to sex, he replied “That is not a problem.” They’re working to show just how incapacitated Donna was at the time. From the Des Moines Register:
Assistant Attorney General Tyler Buller told jurors in his opening statement that Donna Rayhons’ Alzheimer’s disease had worsened dramatically in the months before last May’s incident. She washed her hands in dirty toilet water, forgot how to eat a hamburger and thought her longtime first husband, Slim, was still alive, the prosecutor said.
The nursing home staff held a meeting with both sides of the family, in which they explained her condition, the prosecutor said. Buller said staff members will testify that Henry Rayhons appeared to understand that his wife could no longer consent to sex. “You’ll hear that the defendant said, ‘That is not a problem,’ “ the prosecutor said. “… If he had stayed true to his word, we wouldn’t be here today.”
The Times story also makes clear that there’s no commonly used metric to assess whether an older person with dementia or Alzheimer’s is able to consent to sex. The Hebrew Home at Riverdale is one facility that has detailed consent guidelines, which they first drafted in 1995 and last updated in 2013. The guidelines say an elder must have “intact decision-making capability” to be able to consent.
If convicted, Rayhons faces up to ten years in prison and a fine of $1,000 to $10,000, according to the Iowa state penal code.
Mugshot via Hancock County Sheriff’s Office/AP