Friday, February 29, 2008

Motion for retrial in rape case continues with questioning of dentist


Attorneys continued to question a forensic dentist yesterday in Superior Court during an evidentiary hearing for convicted rapist Eric Frimpong, who through his attorney has filed a motion for a new trial.
Frimpong, a former UC Santa Barbara men’s soccer player, was convicted last December by a Santa Barbara County Jury of raping a 19-year-old female student.
Since then, questions have been raised by his supporters, many of whom were present in court yesterday, and by Robert Sanger, his legal counsel, as to how the trial was handled.
Most notably, Sanger has argued that the testimony of Dr. Charles Bower, a Ventura dentist he hired to analyze a bite mark on the victim’s face and buttock, was not heard by the jury during trial and is integral to Frimpong’s defense.
Bower said on Thursday he fell ill on the day he was supposed to appear in court.
Instead of Bowers, the jury heard testimony from a different dentist during the trial, that of Dr. Norman Sperber, who was hired by the prosecution.
The two men’s testimony varied wildly, with Bower excluding Frimpong as a possible biter, while Sperber said last December that he could not exclude Frimpong as the biter.
Another key difference between the two men’s testimony is that Bower says he cannot exclude a man named Benjamin Randall as the biter, while Sperber said he could.
Randall was the victim’s boyfriend at the time of the rape, which occurred in the early morning hours of Feb. 17, 2007, and is the person who Sanger believes should have, and should still be the man the standing trial.
But at issue yesterday was how Bower came to his conclusion, which as Deputy District Attorney Mary Barron pointed out, not only differs from Sperber’s opinion, but that of two other expert dentists as well, one of whom, Dr. Greg Golden, attended court yesterday and is likely to testify on Monday.
As he did on Thursday, Bower explained that in his opinion, Sperber had his analyses backwards.
Using a picture of a bite mark on the victim’s cheek and transparencies of Randall and Frimpong’s teeth, Bower explained that the bruising furthest from the victim’s mouth was likely made by someone’s upper teeth, while the bruising closest to the mouth was caused by a set of lower teeth.
When Bower placed the transparencies of Randall and Frimpong’s teeth onto the photo of the bite mark, he said it was clear that the marks more closely resemble the teeth of Randall.
But Barron asked Bower if it was possible he was saying this simply because he was being paid $4,000 per day to testify for the defense.
Bower denied testifying to anything other than his opinions about the bite.
If Bower is right, Barron noted that given the nature of the bite, which angles diagonally downward toward the victim’s neck, the biter couldn’t have inflicted it while on top of the victim. This would be difficult, Barron said, because the victim described the attacker as having pinned her arms to the ground from above and raping her.
After the two attorney’s squabbled over Bower’s history with this case and when he rendered his first opinion to Sanger, Superior Court Judge Brian Hill said he is simply concerned with how and why Bower’s testimony differs from that of Sperber’s – an exercise which will continue on Monday and likely last through Tuesday.
When the hearing got underway on Thursday, Hill said he believes the initial trial was fair, but noted that if evidence is presented in the next couple of days that would have changed the tenor of the trial; he’ll order a new one.

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