St. Patrick’s Day sexual assault case: Lead detective returns to stand in Erwin trial
Summit Daily News
Editor’s note: A digest of trial coverage can be found here.
EAGLE — Jurors, attorneys and a number of interested parties arrived at the Eagle County Justice Center on Friday to hear the final day of testimony in the trial of Justin Cayce Erwin, one of four men accused of sexually assaulting a women at a Silverthorne apartment on St. Patrick’s Day in 2016.
Silverthorne detective Theresa Barger, a digital forensic examiner and a man who interacted with the accuser on the night in question all took the stand before the prosecution and the defense rested, bringing a close to four days of testimony. Erwin declined to testify on his own behalf.
Detective Barger, who lead the investigation and is serving as the consulting witness for the prosecution, took the stand for the third time during the trial to start the day. Barger was questioned about an on-camera interview she did with Erwin on March 30, 2016, wherein she showed photographs to Erwin and asked if he knew some of the other suspects in the case.
In the video, Erwin claimed he didn’t know the accused or Ramon Villa, who lived in the apartment where the alleged assault took place during the early morning of March 18. Erwin didn’t know he was being taped at the time. Along with testimony from his date on the night in question, who claimed the two had visited Villa’s apartment a number of times, a text message exchange presented to the jury Friday also shows Erwin lied about his relationship with Villa.
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The exchange highlighted that the two were communicating on St. Patrick’s Day, before the alleged assault took place, as well as after the incident occurred.
“Fun times, let me know if you see my coat or wallet,” Erwin texted Villa around 10 the morning after. Erwin reported his wallet missing and subsequently found. Law enforcement later found the wallet in Villa’s apartment while executing a search warrant on the premises.
At around 11 a.m. Villa responds to Erwin’s text, saying that he woke up around 9 a.m. and “she was gone.” On March 23, Erwin asks Villa if he had met with a detective, to which Villa replied he hadn’t. On March 26, after Erwin apparently returned from a trip to Salt Lake City, the exchange continues.
“Got back late last night. Still no word, you?” asked Erwin.
“Nothing,” replied Villa.
“No news is good news,” finished Erwin.
The messages were from Villa’s cellphone, which was taken as evidence when Barger executed the search warrant. Villa declined to give law enforcement officials the passcode to his phone, and it was sent to the Dixie State University Computer Crime Lab for analysis. Joan Runs Through, a digital forensic examiner, analyzed the phone and returned her report — a physical extraction of about 4,000 pages of data organized by file type — back to law enforcement in Silverthorne. Runs Through also testified on Friday.
The report returned several key pieces of evidence including the text message exchange, photos of Villa and Erwin together dating back to 2015, and the four videos recording the sex acts that occurred on St. Patrick’s Day.
An hour-long video of Barger’s interview with the accuser, taken on March 19, was also shown to the jury in its entirety. While the woman’s story is largely consistent with her direct testimony earlier this week, there are some differences.
The two discuss a preliminary toxicology report from the accuser’s forensic nursing examination taken after the alleged assault, which reported traces of cocaine in her system. The woman claimed she had no recollection of ingesting cocaine at any point. In the video, the woman recalls seeing a hollowed out pen on the counter the next day, implying it could have been used for cocaine on the night in question. Barger made no mention of coming across any illegal substances, including cocaine, during her investigation.
While it is known that the accuser did take a urine test during her examination, there is some confusion as to what happened with a few pieces of evidence from the exam. According to Mary Skowron, coordinator of St. Anthony Summit Medical Center’s forensic nurse examiner program, it’s standard protocol for nurses to draw blood from alleged sexual assault victims. On the accuser’s medical chart, Skowron recalls seeing two boxes to denote whether or not blood was drawn, with only one marked. A form dictating the chain of custody for the evidence between the hospital and law enforcement shows that evidence from the exam was turned over, but it does not specify what evidence. Barger said she was not given any blood or urine samples with the evidence, and that no subsequent blood or urine analyses took place.
In the video, the accuser recalls what she can remember from that night, including being “held up” by two men as they walked through the cold after leaving the bar, being held down on a bed and even telling the men to stop at one point.
“I remember saying stop, stop, stop,” she said, claiming she only heard laughter from the accused in response.
She was also able to give Barger an accurate description of the apartment building, and even drew a map of the apartment’s interior.
Matt Juday, who interacted with the accuser and her boyfriend on the night in question, also testified. On St. Patrick’s Day, the accuser’s boyfriend, Mike, left the bar after confronting his girlfriend for openly flirting with Juday. He recalls interacting with the woman, exchanging phone numbers and even sharing a kiss at one point. Juday admits to some memory loss due to moderate to heavy drinking that night, but said he doesn’t recall the woman drinking anything while at the bar, and said that, to his knowledge, the woman wasn’t over-served.
The accuser’s state of mind and level of inebriation that night will prove a deciding factor for the jury in determining whether or not she was able to consent to the group sex that took place.
Juday left the bar and went home alone that night. He was later questioned by police and gave a DNA swab, though he was never considered a suspect, according to Barger.
Two cases stemming from the alleged assault have already been adjudicated. Paul Garvin was convicted of a Class 2 sexual assault in Summit County District Court last October. Michael Gelber pleaded guilty to a reduced felony charge and two misdemeanors in June. Villa pleaded not guilty to felony charges in December, and is slated to head to court in Eagle in September.
The trial will resume on Monday at 1:30 p.m. with Judge John McMullen providing jury instructions, and litigators — District Attorney Bruce Brown and Lisa Hunt for the prosecution, and Ashley Petrey and William Palmer for the defense — giving their closing arguments. The jury is expected to begin deliberation late Monday afternoon.
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It’s fitting that Eagle County is proceeding through its reopening phases of COVID-19 in an analogy to ski run difficulties — green to blue to black. Monday marks the transition from the green beginner phase to the blue intermediate phase.