Keystone groping trial ends in acquittal, but defendant will serve probation for drug charge
A Summit County jury found a man not guilty of a pair of sex crimes after a three-day trial Wednesday. However, he was convicted of a misdemeanor drug crime and sentenced to a year of probation.
Jacob Keller Bens had been charged with attempted sexual assault, a class-five felony, for allegedly groping a woman while she was asleep in bed with him. His defense attorneys argued that he had implied consent in the encounter because the two had been kissing and groping each other at a bar in Keystone earlier that night.
During his own testimony Wednesday, Bens said that he didn’t even believe the woman had been asleep when he placed his hand on one of her breasts. He denied putting his hand under the woman’s panties, as she had claimed.
The woman’s testimony and roughly a dozen text messages between her and Bens made up the bulk of the evidence in the case. In the messages, the woman confronted Bens about the groping, and he apologized but denied penetrating her.
The prosecution argued the texts amounted to an admission of guilt, but Bens offered a different explanation during his testimony.
“I was sorry for the way she felt,” he said. “She was clearly upset about something … I personally didn’t think what I did that night was inappropriate, but she seemed really distraught and so I wanted to express my sympathy for her feelings.”
In the text messages, Bens also mentioned that he did cocaine for the first time in several years that night, which was the basis for the misdemeanor drug charge he faced. He admitted to taking a “bump” of the drug when offered it by a stranger, but his attorneys still argued that the jury couldn’t be sure it was actually cocaine he had used.
The trial stemmed from an incident on the night of Aug. 5, 2017, when Bens was working the door at the Snake River Saloon in Keystone. The woman, whom he had met briefly before, approached him, and the two later started dancing and kissing, according to testimony.
The woman invited Bens to her place, where they watched TV in her bed and were kissing again. The woman made it clear she did not want to have sex, and Bens agreed. Soon, she became ill and went to the bathroom for 15-20 minutes, according to testimony.
Upon returning, the woman fell asleep at Bens’ side. When she woke up, she discovered Bens’ hands on her and promptly got up and left, she said during testimony. She didn’t initially report Bens to police but did after the trauma of the incident persisted for days.
“She told you she was passed out — no consent could possibly be given,” prosecutor Johnny Lombardi said during his closing arguments.
While the woman testified that she had about six drinks at the bar, she didn’t experience the type of broad memory loss that has marked three recent sexual assault cases in Summit County. She doesn’t remember what happened after she returned from the bathroom, but her memory of the rest of the night is mostly clear.
“Common sense will tell you Mr. Bens had no reason to know, no way of knowing that consent was withdrawn for what amounts to affectionate touching, the same affectionate touching that was happening all night,” one of his attorneys told the jury during closing statements. “What happened at the apartment was a continuation of that same consent.”
The jury deliberated for less than two hours before delivering its verdict. Bens opted to be sentenced immediately for the drug charge, and Judge Christopher Munch ordered him to serve a year of supervised probation.
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