Former Breckenridge man accused of sexually assaulting woman, abandoning her in near-zero weather
February 7, 2018
A man accused of sexually assaulting a woman and abandoning her in near-zero temperatures near Breckenridge a year ago is now on trial in Summit County court, charged with two felonies that could each carry lengthy prison sentences.
Like many sexual assault cases, the alleged victim was impaired and doesn't remember the incident. But she insisted during her testimony Wednesday that she did not consent to the encounter, which left her bruised, scraped and emotionally distraught.
In a twist, however, defendant Christopher Jay Gann's attorney argued during opening statements that his client didn't remember anything about the night of Jan. 30, 2017, either. He had been drinking all day and claims to have been just as baffled as the victim about what happened.
"This case is about memory loss," public defender Reed Owens argued. "It's about a huge window of time when neither of these people have any memory of what happened … At the end of this trial, there are still going to be major question marks as to what the circumstances of this encounter were."
“This case is about memory loss. It’s about a huge window of time when neither of these people have any memory of what happened … At the end of this trial, there are still going to be major question marks as to what the circumstances of this encounter were.”Reid OwensPublic Defender
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Gann is facing trial for one count of class-three felony sexual assault and one count of class-four felony sexual assault. The former can carry a four- to 12-year prison sentence, while the latter can range from two to six years.
"This is a story of a defendant seizing the opportunity of a helpless individual who was incapable of giving consent to sexual intercourse," prosecutor Johnny Lombardi said during his opening statements. "She woke up with no pants, no panties, no jacket — all she discovered was that she was wearing a tank top."
Gann and his accuser met just a couple of days before the alleged assault occurred. The woman and her partner were staying at a house in unincorporated Breckenridge that served as a hostel of sorts for acquaintances of the man who owned it.
The woman said her memory lapsed at about 2:30 p.m. on Jan. 29 and she didn't come to until around 3 a.m., when she woke up half naked in Gann's car with numb hands and feet and no idea where she was. The door was open, and it was only about 5 degrees out.
"I just woke up in a panic," she recalled on the witness stand. "My clothes were wet and frozen to the floor of the vehicle … I felt like I was freezing to death and was really confused."
The woman was in pain and knew something was wrong, prompting her to eventually go to St. Anthony Summit Medical Center. There, she underwent a forensic nurse exam that confirmed a sexual encounter had occurred.
"I know my body and I knew there was something wrong — physically, emotionally," the woman said. "I was mostly kind of in shock because I had no idea what to think. I was mostly just feeling scared and upset."
As she attempted to piece things together, the woman learned that she had failed to pick up her partner from work that evening as originally planned and had at one point been asleep in the house.
She and Gann had been hanging out the day before and made a trip to Park County, along with another man who was staying in the house whom the woman had met in Silverthorne several months earlier.
Gann had been drinking since at least 10 a.m., and throughout the day he offered the woman alcohol. She mostly turned him down but politely took several sips. She did not believe the amount she drank was enough to make her black out, she said.
Upon their return to the house near Breckenridge, the other man offered the woman a green smoothie of unknown contents, saying it would help her with her health problems. Her memory lapsed shortly after drinking about half of it.
It was unclear from the first day of testimony whether or not prosecutors believe the smoothie was drugged, but Facebook messages between the woman and Gann the next day indicate she thought it was. She didn't suspect Gann until weeks later, when DNA testing allegedly matched him to a semen stain found on her clothes.
By then, police allege in court documents that Gann had deleted his Facebook account, ditched his car and skipped town. He was arrested in Oregon in July and extradited back to Summit County to face trial.
There is considerable evidence in the case — including Gann's DNA — but Owens argued that there was no evidence of any struggle or signs that the woman was forcibly assaulted.
The mutual memory loss of both parties could create challenges for prosecutors, who will be charged with reconstructing more than 12 hours that neither party remembers.
Testimony from the woman's partner as well as the acquaintance who gave her the smoothie — who is set to be called by the defense, not the prosecution — could provide key insight.
But the case could turn as much on Gann's mental state as the victim's. In his opening statements and cross-examination of the woman, Owens continually reiterated how much his client had been drinking that day.
"He was drinking at 10 a.m. and continued to drink during the day," Owens told the jury. "The next day he says he's pissed himself and his bed — that's how drunk he was."
The trial is scheduled to continue through Friday.
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