Day 1: Trial begins for Ramon Villa, one of four accused in 2016 Silverthorne sexual assault
Summit Daily News
Editor’s note: Find continued coverage of this trial at http://www.vaildaily.com.
EAGLE — It was standing room only at the Eagle County Justice Center on Tuesday, Sept. 4, as more than 130 potential jurors filed into the courtroom to begin the voir dire process in the trial of Ramon Villa, one of four men accused of sexually assaulting a woman allegedly too inebriated to give consent on St. Patrick’s Day 2016.
Prospective jurors lined the room, quickly filling up the courtroom pews, juror box and witness stand leaving only room to stand in back.
Fifth Judicial District Judge Frederick Gannett asked more than 50 to wait in another room, and began rounds of questioning to try and narrow the field to 14 jurors, including two alternates.
Villa, 42, is the fourth of the accused to have his case adjudicated, more than two years after the alleged assault took place. On the night in question, Villa — along with Paul Garvin, Michael Gelber and Justin Erwin — performed group sex with a woman in Villa’s Silverthorne apartment, though the woman claims she has only vague memories of the encounter, and didn’t consent to the acts.
Ability to consent
Ultimately, the woman’s state of inebriation during the incident will serve as a major component in determining her ability to consent, and in turn whether or not the sex acts could be considered sexual assault.
The next morning, the woman underwent a SANE (sexual assault nurse examiner) exam, revealing a number of scrapes, bruises and lacerations stemming from the encounter. In a subsequent warranted search of Villa’s apartment on March 30, 2016, police recovered Justin Erwin’s wallet, along with the accuser’s underwear, matching both her and Villa’s DNA.
Police also searched Villa’s phone, which in addition to numerous text exchanges with Erwin, also held four short videos of the sexual encounter, presumably filmed by Villa.
Villa faces three counts of sexual assault, three counts of unlawful sexual contact and one count of conspiracy to commit invasion of privacy for sexual gratification, as a result of filming the encounter.
Villa pleaded not guilty to all charges in December 2017, rejecting two plea bargains from the prosecution.
The first deal would have included a guilty plea to second-degree assault as a crime of sexual violence, carrying a sentence of six to 16 years in prison.
The second would have allowed Villa to plead to an open, class-four felony with a minimum sentence of 10 years.
Villa instead decided to take the case to trial. While this is the fourth case stemming from the alleged assault to be adjudicated, and the third to go to trial, the results are far from certain.
Garvin, the first to go to trial, was convicted on one of three felony sexual assault charges in Summit County District Court in October 2017.
In March of this year, Summit Judge Karen Romero sentenced Garvin to a minimum of 16 years to life in prison. In June, Gelber pleaded guilty to a felony and two misdemeanors, and was granted a deferred sentence.
Of note, both Garvin and Gelber are listed as potential witnesses in Villa’s case, though it’s unclear if either will testify.
But the script changed in July. After a week-and-a-half trial in Eagle County — Erwin and Villa’s trials were moved out of Summit County due to prolific media exposure — and after almost two days of deliberation the jury returned not guilty verdicts on 11 of 20 charges brought against Erwin, including nine counts of sexual assault.
Judge John McMullen declared a mistrial on the other nine counts after the jury informed the court they couldn’t come to decisions on the others.
Erwin is expected to return to Eagle County court on Sept. 14 to determine a new trial date to resolve the remaining charges.
Villa’s trial is scheduled to take place through Sept. 14. Deputy District Attorney Lisa Hunt is prosecuting the case, while Stacy Shobe is defending Villa.
Jury selection will continue into Wednesday morning, with the trial starting as early as Wednesday afternoon.