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Sun. Jul 14th, 2024

Former Uber driver acquitted of one charge in 2017 SunFest rape case

By Vaseline May31,2024


A judge dismissed four other criminal charges after jurors said they could not agree on whether Gary Kitchings was guilty.

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  • A jury has acquitted an Uber driver of one count of sexually assaulting a passenger in a retrial on charges stemming from an incident at SunFest in 2017.
  • Circuit Judge Caroline Shepherd granted a mistrial Friday morning on the other four charges Gary Kitchings faced.
  • Kitchings was previously sentenced to 22 years in prison in 2018 after a jury found him guilty of sexual assault. The conviction was overturned in 2020 and Kitchings was granted a new trial.

WEST PALM BEACH – A jury has acquitted an Uber driver of one count of sexually assaulting a passenger in a retrial on charges stemming from an incident at SunFest in 2017.

Circuit Judge Caroline Shepherd granted a mistrial Friday morning on the other four charges Gary Kitchings faced. They include two other cases of sexual assault as well as burglary and false imprisonment.

The six-member jury deliberated for more than 15 hours beginning Wednesday afternoon and told Shepherd late Thursday that they could not reach an agreement on the charges Kitchings, now 64, faced. Shepherd asked them to try again, and Friday morning they announced their verdict.

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The appeals court has overturned the Uber driver’s initial conviction for rape

Kitchings was previously sentenced to 22 years in prison in 2018 after a jury found him guilty of sexual assault. The conviction was overturned in 2020 and Kitchings was granted a new trial after the 4th District Court of Appeal found multiple errors were made during the first trial.

The appeals court ruled that then-Palm Beach County Chief Judge Krista Marx should have told the jury that Kitchings had repeatedly told Jupiter police that the sex was consensual.

Defense attorneys could have used the statement to dispute a prosecutor’s insinuation that Kitchings lied when he testified in his own defense, said the West Palm Beach court hearing appeals from Palm Beach, Broward, St. Lucie, Martin , Indian River. and Okeechobee counties.

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Kitchings, a former “house parent” at KidSanctuary, a faith-based foster home in suburban West Palm Beach, was accused of raping a then-37-year-old woman in 2017 while moonlighting as a driver for the ridesharing app Uber.

His accuser told police investigators that Kitchings raped her several times at her Jupiter condominium after driving her home from SunFest, the music festival held each May in West Palm Beach.

Kitchings told investigators that the woman, whom The Palm Beach Post is not identifying, agreed to have sex. During his retrial, prosecutors Kristen Grimes and Nicole Corring told jurors that Kitchings “took an opportunity” and entered the accuser’s home with the intention of raping her.

Defense attorney Scott Skier argued that the case came down to competing stories about whether the sexual encounter was consensual, telling jurors there was insufficient evidence to support a conviction.

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Woman said Uber driver threatened her safety, sex was not consensual

During her testimony, Kitchings’ prosecutor told jurors she had gone out with friends and requested a ride home to Jupiter. She said she initially sat in the back seat of Kitchings’ Nissan Versa when he came to pick her up, then moved to the front seat after he picked up two other passengers, a mother and a daughter.

She testified that Kitchings’ behavior changed after he dropped off the other passengers. She said Kitchings began touching her and making unwanted advances as they continued the journey to her home. When she rejected his advances, Kitchings warned that he had a gun under his seat and threatened to harm the woman if she didn’t comply with his demands, she told jurors.

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When they arrived near the woman, the woman asked Kitchings to drop her off at the gate, but he insisted on taking her home. The woman told jurors she ran to her front door and opened it hoping to get to safety, but turned around to find Kitchings had followed her.

The woman said Kitchings then entered her home and began sexually assaulting her, the woman said.

The jury returned to the courtroom on several occasions during deliberations to play the prosecutor’s testimony and hear a recording of the phone call she made to 911. The case appeared to be headed for a mistrial Thursday afternoon when jurors sent Shepherd a note saying they could not reach an agreement on any of the counts.

Shepherd instructed the jury to make another trial, allowing deliberations to continue past 5 p.m. Shortly before 6 p.m., the judge paused deliberations and ordered the jury to return Friday morning.

Kitchings faced three counts of sexual battery, each involving a different part of the woman’s body. Jurors said they could not reach an agreement on two of the charges.

Julius Whigham II is a criminal justice and public safety reporter for The Palm Beach Post. You can reach him at [email protected] and follow him on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter @JuliusWhigham. Support our work: Subscribe today.

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