Published in Nacional number 528, 2005-12-26

Autor: Marina Biluš


Dramatic testimony of the violated basketball player

Nacional exclusively releases the transcript of the testimony by raped American women's basketball player Ilisha Jarrett and her moving letter to her attorney, which shows that the court did all it could to free local powerholder Joso Mraovic

 Ilisha Jarrett Ilisha Jarrett Ilisha Keisha Marie Jarrett, professional woman's basketball player from Birmingham, Alabama began her sports career in 1996 by playing for Mississippi State University and after five years, played in the FIBA professional women's basketball league. Today, the 28 year old American has played for Russian, Korean, Portuguese and Hungarian clubs. She moved to Gospic in September 2004 as a reinforcement to Croatia's best women's basketball team Gospic-Industrogradnja, which recently placed in the final sixteen teams in the FIBA Cup. Thousands of miles from her family, she replaced her American home with a room in the Gospic hotel Ante, and only seven months later, experienced the most horrifying experience in her life.

Jarrett filed rape charges on 13 April of this year after local powerholder Joso Mraovic burst into room 102 of the hotel he owns and attack Ilisha Jarrett, forcing his finger into her anus. The County Court in Gospic threw her charges aside, calling them unfounded. The verdict made by Justice Branko Milanovic on 1 December has become one of the most ridiculous blemishes to the Croatian justice system due to its substantiation, and proves the complete powerlessness and absurdity of our judiciary.

Ten days after the disgraceful substantiation of the verdict was leaked to the public, in which Judge Milanovic equated the violent penetration of a male finger into a woman's anus with shaking hands, “for neither the finger nor the anus are not sexual organs”, Nacional here exclusively brings the testimony of Ilisha Jarrett before the investigative judge in which she describes in detail the events of 13 April when Joso Mraovic knocked on her door. Mraovic, a former HDZ representative in the Gospic City Council and Assembly of Lika-Senj County, returned to Gospic in 1989 after living in Australia for 20 years. Six years later, he bought the Lika construction company. As owner of another construction company ‘Bigram’ and Hotel Ante, 57 year old Mraovic is known in the small town of Gospic as a wealthy and powerful man.

But in her testimony, Illisha Jarrett claimed that she knew nothing of that. She had only seen him occasionally and knew of him as the owner of the hotel she was living in. Considering that after the attempt to subpoena her was unsuccessful, Judge Branko Milinovic did not permit Illisha Jarrett to be heard in the main trail, and therefore, this affidavit is her only statement.

On that day, after morning practice in her club’s basketball court, Illisha Jarrett was relaxing in the hotel jacuzzi before returning to her room. A little after 3 pm, se was awakened by a loud knock at the door.

“I was sleeping in bed when I heard a knock at the door. There was a second knock that I ignored, but when I heard the knock a third time, I got out of bed. I went to the door thinking it was my team-mate, I asked “Rhonda, what do you want?” and opened the room door. I saw the defendant (Joso Mraovic, ed. note) and asked him what he wanted. He started making noise and yelling and walked into the room, pushed me. I stepped back and he walked in and closed the door. I asked him what he wanted. He said ‘come’ in English referring to the bed because the door was in front of me and the bed behind me and that’s the direction he was moving in. I said ‘no’ in shock and asked him what he wanted. Then he grabbed my arm and started pulling me towards the bed, so I yanked my arm back hard to get it away from him. Then I said, ‘No! What do you want from me?’ I asked him why he was here, again said ‘no’ and then he said ‘Come here, why not?’ referring to the bed. While he was standing in front of me, he grabbed my head and tried to kiss me, but I turned my head away. Then he took a step backwards but grabbed my robe. When he did that, he saw I wasn’t wearing any clothing other than the robe, and then he started making noises and touching himself. I asked him to leave and then he stepped very close to me. I grabbed me around the waist with his right hand and he put his left hand under my robe and started groping for my vagina with his fingers, but instead of putting his finger in my vagina he put it in my anus. I pushed him away from me because the situation became unbearable, I pushed him with my elbow, not as hard as I could but just to move him away from me. When I saw that he was coming after me, I opened the door and pushed him out,” was the affidavit made on 25 May in Gospic by Illisha Jarrett to investigative judge Dusan Sporcic.

The record of her affidavit further states that the frightened and humiliated Illisha lock the door to her hotel room, sat on the bed and crying called her friend and team-mate Rhonda Smith, asking her to come to her room, but without her young daughter who lived with her. Then she told her what had happened. They intended to immediately call the police, but when they learned that no one there spoke English, they called Rose Dosen, the translator they contact when they had language difficulties. They called her on her mobile, but while they were explaining what had happened, the telephone in Illisha’s room rang. Rhonda Smith answered and recognized the voice of Joso Mraovic who called her, as she later told the investigative judge, “my dear”. She knew his voice because only one day before the attack on her friend, he approached her at the table of the hotel restaurant. Rhonda was eating lunch with her 4 year old daughter, and Mraovic proposed that he come to her room for sex.

Rhonda testified that at that moment she was talking on her cell phone and the 57 year old man turned to her daughter and asked her, “Do you want me to come to your mummy’s bed?” The young basketball player told the vulgar businessman not to come to her room and left the restaurant with her daughter, but she remembered Mraovic’s voice well and easily recognized it when she answered the phone in Illisha Jarrett’s room. Frightened Rhonda Smith quickly put the phone down and hurried to her room to get her daughter, then she returned to Illisha’s room. Several minutes later, someone began knocking on the door which they had locked. Mraovic yelled, “Open up, I know you’re in there!” Then they heard him talking to another person.

“Then he went and knocked on Rhonda’s door and again returned to my room and started banging on the door. Frightened, we again called Rose Dosen and told her that Mraovic had returned and to do something, to call anyone because we had to leave the room,” was the testimony by the raped woman. Translator Rose Dosen quickly called the club coach, physiotherapist, assistant coach and his daughter who spoke English to go to the hotel to get Illisha and Rhonda. They met up at the hotel parking lot, and then went to a nearby café where they advised Illisha Jarrett to come to the regular workout that afternoon.

She agreed because she did not want her team-mates to suspect anything had happened, but she was upset and couldn’t concentrate at the workout. That same evening, she met with the club president who promised her that they would call the police and immediately move Jarrett and Smith to Hotel Ana, where they slept that evening. The next morning, they both went to the police and gave their statements, after which time Illisha Jarrett was medically examined. That same morning, she noticed a trace of blood on the toilet paper after wiping herself. Considering that the press had already got wind of the event the next day, the humiliated and confused woman could not accept the proposal by the leadership of the woman’s basketball team Gospic-Industrogradnja that she remain in Gospic and play the final three games of the season. She terminated her contract with the club and five days after her attack, she left Gospic and travelled to Italy where her fiancé lives. She admitted to being equally upset and frightened on 25 May when she returned to Croatia to give the investigative judge her statement. Her comment to the press was “I came to this hearing to tell the truth. That’s why I’m back. I want that what happened to me becomes a model for others. I wouldn’t want this to happen to someone else and for another girl to live through this ordeal.”

At that time, the professional basketball player could certainly not have imagined that six months later, the County Court would reject her charges of rape against Josip Mraovic with the substantiation “In this case, neither the finger nor the anus have any sexual characteristics, and if they were in contact, for neither the finger nor the anus are sexual organs, and therefore their contact cannot substantiate a sexual action and cannot be equated to sexual relations. In the Croatian language, it is very clear what sexual relations are, and no one can call other contact sexual, nor equate such with sexual relations.”

The author of this substantiation, Judge Branko Milinovic not only shocked the Croatian public with his perception of a sexual act, but completely violated the professional postulates of his post. Were it not so, he would know that sexual actions may not be interpreted and considered from the position of linguistics, but as a legalist entitled to carry out the law and judicial practice. And according to the legal position of the superior institute of the Supreme Court of Croatia, rape is considered to be a situation which, in spite of resistance by the damaged person, there is penetration of a body part into a sexual or anal orifice. Furthermore, the Criminal Code has long since recognized the institution of actions, equating such with sexual relations, which therefore makes the Milinovic substantiation nebulous, to say the least.

No less absurd is the fact that Joso Mraovic was taken into custody 12 days after the rape charges were filed. There are also suspicions of the regularity of the investigative process due to the fact that the court accepted into evidence the clothing of the defendant as handed over by his wife, which consisted of “dark blue pants with pockets, a light olive coloured vest with buttons and a dark blue shirt”. In the investigation, the clothing Mraovic wore at the time of the assault, but it is difficult to believe that this combination is truly what the business had on at the time, considering that on that day, just prior to entering the basketball player’s room, he had a meeting with business partners from Rovinj and Germany. Furthermore, that same morning, he had a meeting with the Gospic mayor, and it is very unlikely that he would have worn such casual clothing under such circumstances. If we add the incomprehensible decision of Branko Milinovic to not permit Illisha Jarrett and Rhonda Smith to testify in the trial at the Municipal Court in Gospic, as the first call was never handed to them, then the appeal by the Rijeka County Prosecutor’s Office, seeking the Supreme Court to call for a retrial of Mraovic with a different judge, is completely founded.

OKVIR: Copy of the email sent by Illisha Jarrett on 17 May to her attorney
"I would ask that you inform me by email as to the date I am to appear in court so that I can plan my schedule in time. Also, I am a little disappointed by the way the court in Gospic has handled the case. I have read all the newspaper articles and was surprised that the witnesses in the case are not those people I spoke with directly after the incident. I did not see the president of the club until the evening hours at workout that day, and I saw the club director that morning, before anything happened, and so it is not clear to me why they are witnesses when they have nothing to testify about. Rhonda was present, as was Rose, but they should have called my coach and the club physician, as well as the assistant coach and his daughter because those are the people who came to get me, Rhonda and her daughter and take us from the hotel. They can testify that we were frightened, they can testify to my tears and that I was so anxious and shaken up that I couldn’t stop crying, that I couldn’t even hold a cup of tea in my hands… It is also strange that I have not been called to testify in court, particularly since I am the victim. Furthermore, Rhonda told me that Mr. Mraovic asked her questions in the trial. How is it possible that the man accused of rape is entitled to ask the witness questions? Is he really that powerful to represent himself in court and, if so, then why wasn’t I there to pose questions to him? Who is this man and what should I do if they attempt to cover up the entire case? What is going on and how should I feel and how can I address the court when it appears that the judge is on his side? You asked if I was afraid. Yes, I am, very much so, because it looks as though I can’t find any protection. And if I can’t get protection from the court, then from who? A man like him will not stop because he is convinced that he did nothing wrong. But if I push it all under the rug and turn my head, as everyone would like me to do because this man has power and money, then another person will not be so lucky and will not have the strength to publicly stand up to him. And everyone knows his reputation. One police officer even asked me, “Didn’t anyone warn you about that man?” This man has no respect for women, he is not professional, and that is not alright…”