Trial begins for Justin Erwin, one of four accused in 2016 sexual assault
Editor’s note: A digest of trial coverage can be found here.
Eagle–Dozens of Eagle County residents packed into a crowded courtroom at the Eagle County Justice Center on Monday morning to kick off the jury selection process in the long awaited trial of Justin Cayce Erwin.
Erwin, 41, is one of four men accused of sexually assaulting a woman who was too inebriated to give consent during an incident in Silverthorne on St. Patrick’s Day in 2016. The trial, scheduled through July 27, is expected to begin in earnest on Tuesday.
The prosecution and defense spent the day probing potential jurors in voir dire examinations, asking their opinions about the charge of sexual assault, their experiences dealing with intoxicated individuals and more. A jury of 15 individuals, including three alternates, will be chosen for the trial. Judge John McMullen will preside over the proceedings.
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According to court documents, Erwin and three others—Paul Garvin, Michael Gelber and Ramon Villa—encountered the woman at a bar in Silverthorne after a night of drinking and celebrating the holiday, and subsequently adjourned to a Silverthorne apartment where the alleged assault took place. Villa was renting the apartment at the time.
A statement of facts filed in court in June 2017 paints a troubling picture of an hours long assault, informed largely by four graphic cell phone videos of the incident recorded by one of the men during the early morning of March 18. Descriptions of the videos describe the woman as having slurred speech, and being in an “altered consciousness” throughout. An examination by a forensic nurse examiner after the incident found numerous injuries to the woman, according to the document.
A text message exchange between Erwin and Villa revealed that the woman had left the apartment by 9 a.m. when Villa woke up the next day, according to the document.
With the accuser’s memory severely impaired, the videos served as the keystone piece of evidence for District Attorney Bruce Brown and the prosecution during the earlier trial of Paul Garvin. The videos were shown privately to the jury, and were meant to provide insight into the woman’s state of mind at the time, a matter that will likely be pressed again in Erwin’s trial.
Erwin will be the third to head to court on the case, though it remains to be seen whether or not he’ll fare better than the others. Paul Garvin was convicted on a class-two sexual assault charge in October 2017, and was sentenced to prison for a minimum of 16 years to life by Summit District Court Judge Karen Romeo. Michael Gelber pleaded guilty to a reduced felony charge and two misdemeanors last month, and is scheduled to be sentenced this October.
Ramon Villa pleaded not guilty to felony sexual assault charges in December 2017, rejecting two plea deals from the prosecution. Villa is scheduled for a nine-day trial in Eagle County from September 4-14.
Erwin was originally slated to be tried alongside Gelber in January, but the trial was delayed and moved from Summit to Eagle County due to pre-trial publicity following the Garvin conviction. Gelber will be available to testify in Erwin’s trial.
Bruce Brown and Lisa Hunt are representing the District Attorney’s office during the trial, while Ashley Petrey and William Palmer are representing Erwin for the defense.
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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.