October 7, 2002 at 6:07 PM EST - Updated July 12 at 4:27 AM
CINCINNATI (AP) - A University of Akron student convicted of raping another student should be released from prison or retried because his rights were violated at his first trial, a federal appeals court ruled Monday.
Nathaniel M. Lewis, 25, was denied his constitutional right to confront a witness when a Summit County Common Pleas Court judge said he couldn't use a passage from the woman's diary to support his claim that they had consensual sex, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled.
The ruling by appeals judges George Steeh, Alice Batchelder and Danny Boggs reverses a federal judge's March 2000 ruling against Lewis.
If the state doesn't retry Lewis, he could be released from prison where he has served five years of his eight-year sentence.
Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery will decide later whether to appeal, said her spokesman, Joe Case.
Prosecutors said the rape occurred Oct. 12, 1996, in the woman's dormitory room.
Defense lawyers said that, prior to the 1997 trial, someone anonymously mailed Lewis excerpts copied from the woman's diary. The trial judge ruled that Ohio's rape shield law prevented use of part of the diary passages as evidence.
The appeals court agreed that the excluded passage could have involved the issue of whether the woman consented to sex and a possible motive for her to pursue charges against Lewis.
The excluded passage read: "I'm sick of myself for giving in to them (men). I'm not a nympho like all those guys think. I'm just not strong enough to say no to them. I'm tired of being a whore. This is where it ends."
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)