Trial begins for first of four suspects in alleged Silverthorne sex assault
A 14-person jury was chosen on Monday for the sexual assault trial of one of four men accused of having sex with a woman in Silverthorne last March while she was too impaired to give consent.
The trial of 46-year-old Paul Garvin could be a bellwether for his three co-defendants, Justin Erwin, 41, Michael Gelber, 46, and Ramon Villa, 41, who are set to be tried separately next year.
Garvin’s trial is scheduled for 10 days and is likely to turn upon the accuser’s state of mind on the night of St. Patrick’s Day in 2016, when she and the defendants were drinking at Murphy’s Bar and Grill in Silverthorne.
Court documents and previous hearings in the case suggest that the accuser was highly intoxicated and had a patchy memory of the alleged assault, captured on four cell phone videos recorded by at least one of the men starting around 4 a.m.
The assault allegedly occurred in Villa’s apartment in Silverthorne. Police later found underwear matching the accuser’s DNA in Villa’s closet, and Villa’s DNA was found on the accuser during a forensic examination, according to court documents.
Villa told Erwin in text messages that when he woke up the next morning at around 9 a.m., the accuser was gone, the documents say.
The accuser later told police that while her memory of the night was unclear, she vaguely recalled being held down and screaming in pain, according to pre-trial arguments earlier this month.
All four men were initially charged with multiple counts of sexual assault, invasion of privacy for sexual gratification and conspiracy charges.
The haze of alcohol over the night’s events is likely to be a major issue at trial. Prosecutors and the defense may spar over whether the night was simply a bad experience for the accuser or whether she had been criminally taken advantage of.
Prosecutor Lisa Hunt will be arguing the case along with District Attorney Bruce Brown. In May, Hunt argued a similar case against a man charged with unlawful sexual contact after he had sex with a woman who was extremely drunk and couldn’t remember the night.
The defense argued that their client, Charles Rochon, was innocent because he had no way of knowing that the encounter wasn’t mutually consensual. The trial ended in a hung jury, and prosecutors later declined to pursue a second trial.
Unlike that trial, this week’s could include plenty of physical evidence, namely the four cell phone videos. Still, pre-trial arguments indicate they might only complicate matters because the videos are poor quality and it’s sometimes unclear what the accuser is saying.
Garvin is not in the third and fourth videos, which are said to be possibly more incriminating than the first two. Garvin’s attorney, Todd Barson, argued earlier this month to exclude the third and fourth videos during trial, but District Court Judge Karen Romeo disagreed, saying they were relevant to the accuser’s state of mind.
A preliminary witness list filed by the prosecution in August lists 29 people, including the accuser.
Co-defendant Ramon Villa is also listed, although it is unclear whether or not he will testify. He is not currently scheduled for a trial but has a hearing on Nov. 3.
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