DENVER — For six days inside of a downtown Denver courtroom, David Mueller sat facing the jury of eight people who would ultimately rule that he assaulted and battered one of the biggest names in music: Taylor Swift.
The white-haired, six-foot former radio DJ gleaned nothing from the expressions on the jurors’ faces as they watched each witness testify, but he figured it wouldn’t be right to face the other way.
“I wanted them to see me. I didn’t want to have my back to them,” Mueller said.
He said he approached the accusations against him in much the same way — head-on.
What makes Mueller’s decision to file suit extraordinary is that after he was accused of grabbing Swift’s bare bottom at a meet-and-greet on June 2, 2013.
There were only a handful of people who knew about it at all — just whispers and rumors inside the radio industry.
It was Mueller who brought the accusations to light, with his now-failed lawsuit against Swift, her mother and a member of her management team — claiming they were responsible for his firing from Denver radio station KYGO.
In his closing statement, Swift’s attorney Doug Baldridge pleaded with jurors to “stop the victimization in this country and in this courtroom.”
But in an interview Tuesday, Mueller said he is a victim too.
Mueller, who continues to maintain his innocence, testified over two days. Early on, Baldridge tried to paint him as a shock jock wannabe who was out for money.
“It’s just demonization, you know. Shock jock equals bad. … I’ve never been a shock jock,” he said.
He likens his courtroom experience to that of David and Goliath — outmanned and outgunned by Swift’s legal entourage.
“I knew I was up against a very powerful celebrity, but I wanted my voice heard,” he said. “Hopefully, people will listen to my story. And look at the facts through a different lens.”
Gabe McFarland, Mueller’s lawyer, tried tirelessly to poke holes in Swift’s story — pointing to inconsistencies in testimony from the photographer who snapped the now-infamous frame and the bodyguard, Greg Dent, who testified he saw Mueller grab Swift’s bottom but did nothing in response.
“I take my cues from her in certain situations and she continued with the photos,” Dent said.
But Baldridge had his own set of advantages — there were several witnesses who testified they saw at least part of what happened, not to mention the photograph that Swift claimed captured the crime itself.
The photo Mueller describes as “awkward,” shows his arm behind Swift’s backside, though it’s unclear if it’s touching.
“The biggest difficulty for both sides was dealing with the photograph and with the witness testimony,” McFarland said.
“The witnesses were not consistent with Taylor’s story, but they all testified that something happened and I think the jury struggled with that.”
By the time the jury had a verdict, Mueller could see the writing on the wall.
“It wasn’t a good feeling, but I was not surprised. I could tell the trial wasn’t going smoothly,” he said.
In a civil case, the standard of justice is not “beyond a reasonable doubt,” it’s a lower standard: Preponderance of the evidence.
In this case, that means the jury found it’s more likely than not Mueller assaulted and battered Taylor Swift.
In court, Mueller was seeking a cash payout for damages from Swift.
Long before trial, Mueller was looking for a settlement but not in cash. Mueller wanted a written letter from Swift’s side, acknowledging he didn’t do what he was accused of.
The problem for Mueller was Swift has always maintained he was the perpetrator. The letter was a nonstarter.
Without it, Mueller said he could not find work in good conscience without disclosing the accusations against him. He felt his only choice was to sue — a decision he still does not regret.
“I’ve been through a lot, but I made it through because I’m strong and because I know that I know I didn’t do it, God knows I didn’t do it,” he said.
Mueller said his then-girlfriend Shannon Melcher, who testified about being inappropriately touched by a colleague, tried to persuade him to keep the accusations quiet and move on.
“She wanted me to pretend it didn’t happen. And I said, ‘Honey, I can’t do that.’ I got accused of doing something I didn’t do. And not only that but it’s so out of character for me,” he said.
The unresolved accusation was something Mueller could not live with — not then, and not now.
“It eats at him every single day,” McFarland said.
The decision to sue did not end well for Mueller.
The jury took just four hours to rule that Swift’s team was not responsible for his termination and instead ordered him to pay just $1 — something Mueller called a “publicity stunt.”
“They made their point. They rubbed my nose in it, good for them,” he said.
On the witness stand, Taylor Swift made clear Mueller only had himself to blame, when questioned by Mueller’s attorney.
“I’m not going to allow you or your client to make me feel in any way that this is my fault, because it isn’t,” she said.
“I am being blamed for the unfortunate events of his life that are a product of his decisions and not mine,” Swift testified.
The groping incident has undoubtedly left its mark on Mueller. McFarland said it not only cost him his job, “it ruined his life.”
Mueller hasn’t worked in radio since, though Swift’s legal team argued he didn’t look very hard to find another gig.
He’d like to get back on the airwaves, but concedes his odds are slim.
Personally, his relationship with Melcher fell apart, not specifically because of the incident, but “it certainly didn’t help,” he said.
He is currently living in Minnesota, where he provides full-time care for his 93-year-old mother.
Mueller said he will continue to try to prove his innocence. He said he has passed two polygraphs and would gladly do another. Mueller provided copies of the polygraph results.
“I don’t know what else I can do. If anybody has an idea for how I can prove my innocence, I’m all ears,” he said.
During the trial, Swift’s attorney asked what would motivate one of the world’s biggest pop stars to falsely accuse a local radio jock whom she had never met before?
Mueller doesn’t have the answer.
“What’s my motivation, as a man who spent 20 years building a career in the entertainment industry?” he asked. “The story is I walk into a photo area with a celebrity with my girlfriend I am in love with, I approach the celebrity, I reach under her skirt and I grab her rear end with her 350-pound body guard right there and somebody taking a photo of it.
“How is that going to work out for my career? … It doesn’t make sense.”
For Swift, the trial inspired a pledge to help other victims of sexual assault.
“My hope is to help those whose voices should also be heard,” she wrote in a statement following the verdict.
For Mueller, the trial helped him reach a much different conclusion.
“It’s a scary world out there, people,” he said. “I hold women in high regard. Would I like my life back? Yeah. Would I like to be doing a morning show with my buddy [Ryan Kleisch]? Yeah, I would.
“That’s what I love to do. Would I like to have my girlfriend? Yeah. But I’m not going to say anything bad about [Swift].”
Mueller said he will pay the $1 judgment. He plans to pay with a $1 coin bearing the image of a Native American woman.
“I thought it would be a very nice gesture,” he said.