Jury convicts Summit County man of sexual assault; he could face 16-48 years in prison

Jack Queen
Paul Garvin was convicted of felony sexual assault on Tuesday, Oct. 31. He could face 16 to 48 years in prison.
Hugh Carey / |

A jury found a Summit County man guilty of sexual assault Tuesday evening, delivering a partial but serious conviction that could have major implications for three co-defendants still awaiting trial.

Paul Garvin, 46, was convicted of one of the three felony sexual assault charges against him and could face a minimum 16-48 years to life in prison. He could also be sentenced to a minimum 20 years to life probation. Judge Karen Romeo will rule on his punishment at a hearing in January.

The verdict, delivered by a jury of 9 women and three men after more than six hours of deliberation, capped off a lengthy, graphic trial that included four cellphone videos of the March 2016 assault.

“This is a testament to the victim, who knew she was in for a tough slog in order to see her case through to a just result,” said District Attorney Bruce Brown, reached by phone Tuesday night.

Brown said he could not yet comment on what sentence his office would recommend, pending a pre-sentencing investigation. Garvin’s attorney, Todd Barson, declined to comment immediately after the verdict.

Prosecutors said Garvin and his co-defendants — Justin Erwin, 41, Michael Gelber, 46, and Ramon Villa, 41 — assaulted the woman in a Silverthorne apartment on St. Patrick’s Day night when she was too impaired to consent. Gelber and Erwin are scheduled for trial in January, and Villa is scheduled for a hearing Nov. 3.

The jury also convicted Garvin of two unlawful sexual contact charges and two counts of invasion of privacy, all misdemeanors. He was found not guilty of two of the felony sexual assault charges and one of the unlawful contact charges.

In its verdict, the jury determined the victim was incapable of appraising her conduct during the assault. It also found that Garvin was aided and abetted by others, a ruling that increases the penalty.

The four cellphone videos provided key evidence in the case, which centered on the victim’s mental state at the time of the assault.

The defense argued that the woman initiated the encounter and was coherent at the time. In his testimony, Garvin said he was reluctant to even participate and was only in the room for about 13 minutes.

But the entire assault lasted hours, leaving the victim with extensive injuries documented in a six-hour forensic nurse exam.

“The videos show roughly five minutes of the hours and hours of rape,” prosecutor Lisa Hunt said during her closing arguments Tuesday. “Nobody signs up for that. Nobody fantasizes about that. Nobody consents to that.”

Hunt repeatedly highlighted those injuries, arguing that even though Garvin isn’t shown inflicting them in the videos, he was complicit in the act that caused them.

“You hear her talking at parts in the video. … She can barely talk,” Hunt said. “(The victim) was not in her right mind. She was on Prozac, alcohol, cocaine, but these men disregarded that. They didn’t care. And she was injured and abused.”

The woman’s Prozac prescription was a curveball on the second day of trial last week, when she told Brown before her testimony that it may have affected her mental state.

Both sides knew about the prescription, but prosecutors indicated before the trial that they wouldn’t be exploring the issue.

Instead, the question was introduced, and the defense argued that the interaction of alcohol and Prozac could’ve made the woman appear coherent to the defendants even if she wasn’t.

“The alcohol mixed with Prozac, it’s quite possible that could explain the lack of memory in this case,” Barson told the jury during closing.

He argued that the woman’s nearly complete memory loss that night was irrelevant to his client’s actions because it wasn’t proof that she was outwardly impaired. All the jury had to consider was whether or not she seemed too impaired to consent from Garvin’s perspective, he said.

“She wasn’t slurring her words, having problems with her balance,” Barson said. “She knew exactly what she was doing.”

During his testimony on Monday, Garvin said that he was “awestruck” and nervous when the woman proposed the encounter after snorting a large line of cocaine. He said he participated reluctantly and left quickly.

Garvin only appears in the first two videos and said he went to bed after they were recorded. The other two, taken about 40 minutes later, are said to be more incriminating.

All of the videos were shown privately to the jury. During his cross-examination of Garvin, Brown played 10 seconds of audio from one of the later videos and was incredulous when Garvin said the woman didn’t sound impaired.

In his rebuttal of Barson’s closing, Brown seemed to be asking the jury to hew to the spirit of the law, which he said has evolved along with society’s shifting mores around sexual assault.

“You are the conscience of this community in 2017 and you have recognized that the law has changed and people’s conception of what constitutes sexual assault has changed,” he told the jury.

He also focused again on the videos, which the jury would later ask to view several more times during their deliberations.

“What causes us to turn away repulsed about these videos is the imbalance,” Brown said. “This is four men on one woman who at times in the video is in pain. … She doesn’t have full consciousness. That’s why the video is hard to watch.”

Brown also defended the woman’s credibility, which the defense had taken shots at while making its case on Monday.

Barson had called one witness who claimed the woman bragged about the case being a financial windfall and another who said she told him about a sexual fantasy involving multiple men. The woman denied both claims on the stand.

“What woman would go through this for as long as she has if there wasn’t substantive truth to what she’s saying?” Brown asked. “Does she look like she has anything to gain from this case — or everything to lose? … That’s a woman of amazing courage.”

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