On Monday at approximately 3:30 p.m., the twelve jurors responsible for determining the veracity of Eric Frimpong’s legal defense came back from deliberation and handed down a guilty verdict for one count of felony rape.
Over the last three weeks, the former UCSB soccer player stood trial for the rape of a fellow UCSB student. During the same trial, he was also charged with the sexual battery of another student, but was acquitted by the jury. According to prosecuting attorney Mary Barron, Frimpong may face up to eight years in prison following presiding judge Brain E. Hill’s sentencing on January 31.
The people’s case, led by Barron, occupied a majority of the court’s time over the three weeks, while the defense, led by attorney Robert Sanger, called only one witness to the stand. Ian Warden, a California Dept. of Justice criminologist, testified as the defense’s sole expert witness. Sanger’s line of questioning dealt primarily with the victim’s blood alcohol level, which was 0.20 on the night of the rape, and how it may have affected her memory of the event.
When asked about Sanger’s line of questioning, Barron commented on the value of the victim’s recollection.
“What I think was more important than her blood alcohol level was the many witnesses that had contact with the victim that night, including an emergency room doctor as well as an expert in dealing with sexual assaults,” Barron said. “Her ability to relate what happened to her that night was more important than a strict blood alcohol test.”
Barron also said she was pleased with the jury’s decision, despite the lack of a conviction on the sexual battery charge.
“I would like to express my thanks to the jury,” Barron said. “Each member had to put in considerable time and go through large amounts of evidence to come to what they felt was a just verdict. With respect to the sexual battery charge, I think it was very brave of that victim to come forth to law enforcement, but ultimately, you must respect the decision the jury made and I feel is was a fair outcome.”
Meanwhile, Frimpong’s former UCSB soccer coach Tim Vom Steeg said he was both disappointed and confused by the verdict. A contentious part of the trail concerned DNA evidence. The victim’s DNA was found on Frimpong’s genitals, but the soccer player’s DNA was not found on the woman.
“Well, we are, for obvious reasons, extremely disappointed,” Vom Steeg said. “Of course, this is a sad event for everyone involved. Both involved were UCSB students and its sad all around. There were, however, no eye witnesses, so ultimately you’re looking for physical evidence. When the DNA evidence came back negative three weeks after this happened, I thought the case would go away. Ten months later, he’s convicted and going to jail. It’s upsetting. There are a lot of questions we still have about how it all went down.”
Vom Steeg said he feels very strongly about the character of his former player.
“Because [the soccer team and I] know Eric in a very intimate way, no one is capable of believing that he is capable of committing a violent act, which rape is,” Vom Steeg said. “Anyone that knows him cannot even fathom that he would do this. The verdict hasn’t changed anyone’s opinion.”
However, UCSB Rape Prevention Education Program Director Carol Mosely said she disagrees with the impression that DNA evidence always trumps testimony.
“DNA has become the topic of most shows on TV that deal with crime, but in the real world, there’s a lot more than DNA that can be used in court,” Mosely said. “Often, in sexual assault cases, there is little or no evidence, but in this case, there was a good amount of evidence.”
Mosely also said that it is difficult to predict who is a potential offender.
“Sadly, it is not at all surprising that this happened between two UCSB students,” Mosely said. “We have a number of assaults by UCSB students against other students. Usually, it is males, but it is important to know that men can be the victims. More importantly, however, is to understand that the sexual predators live among us. There is nothing that points out a sexual predator. They look like every other guy. It makes it difficult because we know these guys. We like these guys. I know there are a lot of supporters of Eric. This is an indication to me that this is a societal problem. It is not just a crazy individual, it’s a societal problem. We need to address it on an every day level, not just a court room.”
Other contentious moments during the trial included the arrest of a juror for driving under the influence of alcohol. Judge Hill as well as both members of council discussed whether or not to allow the juror to continue on with the trial.
Barron said the court addressed the issue but ultimately determined that it was a non-issue.
“It was handled within the context of the trial,” Barron said. “It is not rare for something to come up with a juror within the length of the proceedings. The court determined that the juror could still be fair. Many people have misdemeanor arrests and it doesn’t affect their ability to fulfill their job as a juror.”
Additionally, during the proceedings, Sanger called for a mistrial when he discovered that Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Dept. Detective Daniel Kies had not disclosed his approach to a local dentist, Dr. Raymond Johansen. Sanger then tried to impeach testimony from Dr. Norman Sperber concerning a bite mark found on the victim’s cheek. Sperber testified that while the study of bite marks is not an exact science, he could not rule out Frimpong as a suspect.
Kies testified that he did not mention his meeting with Johansen because the Sheriff’s Dept. had decided not to use the dentist since Johansen would have charged a large sum for his services. Judge Hill determined that the prosecution should have disclosed this evidence, but after studying the matter in closed chambers, Hill ruled that Johansen’s testimony would not have altered the proceedings, thus allowing the trial to continue.
Frimpong is a member of UCSB’s 2006 championship soccer team and a native of Ghana. He was arrested on Feb. 17 on a charge concerning the rape of a woman at a beach facing the 6500 block of Del Playa Drive. A week after his arrest, a second woman came forward to police and accused the soccer player of sexual battery, alleging that Frimpong had assaulted her on the beach below Isla Vista’s cliffs.