Friday, December 14, 2007

Frimpong case goes to jury


Several hours of spirited closing arguments were heard yesterday in Superior Court in a rape case involving a former UC Santa Barbara men’s soccer player.
Deputy District Attorney Mary Barron pointedly went through her closing statements in about 45 minutes, focusing her arguments on the viciousness of the alleged attack and the strength of the prosecution’s evidence.

“This is about every young woman’s nightmare and you now know why,” Barron told the jury. “There’s no question [the alleged victim] was raped. [She] told you who did it. He’s right there.”
Barron addressed the alleged victim’s high blood alcohol level, which tests indicated was .20 several hours after the alleged rape occurred and noted that despite her intoxication, the 19-year-old woman was able to recount in police interviews “painstaking” details about 22-year-old Eric Frimpong, who has pleaded innocent to one felony count of forcible rape alleged by one woman and a misdemeanor county of sexual battery by a second female.
“She may have had a lot to drink,” Barron said. “But the punishment for that is not rape.”
Defense attorney Robert Sanger’s nearly three hours of closing statements couldn’t have been more different than those offered by Barron. He stood at the podium facing the jury of nine women and three men and poured over the meaning of reasonable doubt when relating to finding guilt, and staunchly insisted the prosecution’s case was weak at best.
“The question for you right now is whether or not the gaps have been filled beyond a reasonable doubt,” Sanger said. “Once you look at all the evidence, I submit that each one of you will conclude that this case has not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Sanger noted that he called only one witness due in part to his belief that the prosecution’s case didn’t hold water.
“We’re resting this evidence that is unfortunately so faulty,” Sanger said. “Rather than being obligated to do anything else, we’re not … We’re asking you (the jury) to do the right thing.”
Sanger’s lone witness was Dean Warden, a senior criminologist for the California Department of Justice laboratory in Goleta, who said he tested the alleged victim’s blood and found the alcohol level to be at .20.
While Barron highlighted how well the alleged victim described the details of the attack to police, Sanger noted that if the attack had occurred just after midnight and the woman’s blood alcohol level was at .20 at 5:37 a.m. when her blood was drawn, it could have been as high as .31 at the time of the incident.
“It’s an extremely high level of blood alcohol,” Sanger said. “It’s life threatening.”
While much was said by both sides about the details of the case, Sanger got particularly inflamed and asked Judge Brian Hill to declare a mistrial when Barron said Frimpong lacked an alibi.
“He has no alibi,” Barron said. “He claims he was drugged.”
Immediately after making this statement, Barron said, “He has now had 10 months to think about it.”
Sanger objected immediately to the comment, but Hill allowed Barron to continue. When she finished her closing statements and the jury was excused from the room, Sanger said the “10 month” comment was a direct reference to his client not taking the stand, which he said is a carefully guarded constitutional right and asked for a mistrial.
“It’s just so blatant I can’t believe it was said,” Sanger told Hill. “It was a blatant reference for the defendant failing to take the stand and present an alibi.”
While admitting he didn’t immediately perceive Barron’s comments as an attack aimed at Frimpong, Hill acknowledged Sanger’s point.
“Clearly it could be interpreted by the jury as failure for the defendant to take the stand and defend himself after 10 months,” Hill said, adding that he didn’t believe it was obvious to the jury that Barron’s comments could have referred to Frimpong not taking the stand.
Hill allowed both sides to debate the issue briefly after the lunch break, and ultimately denied Sanger’s request for a mistrial.
“I understand your position,” Hill told Sanger before ruling. “I do see it as a [prosecution] error.”
In order to ensure the jury was clear on the defendant’s constitutional right to not testify, and to, as the jury instructions said, not let the lack of a defendant’s presence on the stand impact any decision it may make, Hill reemphasized that point.
“The defendant in this case has an absolute right to remain silent, to not testify,” Hill told the jury. “Do not consider for any reason at all that the defendant did not testify.”
With that resolved, Sanger dove back into his closing statements. He said Frimpong introduced himself to the woman, told her his name, that he was from a country in Africa, introduced her to his roommates and showed her where he lived.
“He’s not trying to disguise himself,” Sanger said of Frimpong’s demeanor on Feb. 17, when incident allegedly occurred. “Is a violent rapist going to take someone to his house?”
While none of Frimpong’s DNA was found on or inside the woman’s body, her DNA was found on him.
What was found in regards to the alleged victim was the sperm of Benjamin Randall, a male she was having an intimate relationship with at the time. The sperm was found on the woman’s panties.
Sanger turned his statements toward Randall, who he said saw the alleged victim and Frimpong with their arms around each other and recently acknowledged that he wasn’t happy about it.
Sanger repeatedly insisted the investigators and District Attorney’s Office turned finding guilt with Frimpong into a “competitive enterprise.”
Sanger said Randall made conflicting statements and suggested that he may not have been properly investigated. He criticized Randall’s testimony during the trial as being so clear that it seemed unbelievable.
“When people are very clear about a story it’s often not true,” Sanger said. “It just doesn’t have a ring of truth, it just doesn’t make sense.”
Sanger also harped on the fact that the alleged victim never called 911 to report the rape.
“Isn’t that the first thing you would do?” he asked the jury. “It’s not something you wouldn’t do at all.”
Sanger said the big picture is that none of Frimpong’s DNA was found on the alleged victim and also attacked testimony given by Dr. Norman Sperber, who said a bite mark on the alleged victim’s cheek could not be ruled out as not being from Frimpong.
Sanger called that opinion “inconclusive” and noted that because Sperber had given what he believed were inconsistent statements in previous trials, all of his testimony could be considered untruthful.
“There’s a lot of ifs and coulds and maybes here,” Sanger said. “You can’t convict Mr. Frimpong on ifs and coulds and maybes.”
Barron however said all the jury needs to do to find a guilty verdict is review the available testimony and evidence.
She told the jury that in a violent rape case such as this, it’s not surprising that the defendant’s DNA wasn’t found on the alleged victim because ejaculation isn’t always achieved when there is a struggle.
But the alleged victim’s DNA, Barron said, was found on Frimpong’s genitals and “It was not some inconsequential contact.”
Barron said the alleged victim clearly remembered hearing the accented voice of Frimpong telling her to “shut the f*ck up” two to three times after throwing her to the sand on an Isla Vista beach and then “violently penetrating her.”
“She described who assaulted her with clarity and detail,” Barron said.
In regards to the sexual battery charge, Barron said it occurred a couple weeks before the alleged rape incident and the similarities between the two establish a disturbing pattern for Frimpong.
Barron said both alleged victims were 19-year-old freshman, both were befriended by Frimpong, taken to the same beach and “they were both sexually assaulted by him.”
Sanger said the alleged sexual battery victim stepped forward only after the case appeared in the media.
“The reason we have the second case is because it was treated as a high profile story,” Sanger said. “That then caused this other case to be a case.”
As to Sanger alluding to possible involvement by Randall, Barron said, “Benjamin Randall was absolutely ruled out.”
In her brief rebuttal to Sanger’s closing statements, Barron called the defense attorney’s tactics “verbal gymnastics,” and once again encouraged the jury to turn to the evidence and police interviews for the facts of the case.
“The evidence in this case is unrelenting,” Barron said. “And it will lead you to the correct conclusion.”
The jury will begin its deliberations on Monday morning.

No comments: