Man acquitted of both counts in Breckenridge sexual assault trial
February 9, 2018
A Summit County jury acquitted Christopher Jay Gann of the two felony sexual assault counts against him on Friday, ending a four-day trial that featured ample physical evidence but not enough to bridge the yawning memory gaps in both Gann and his accuser that sowed reasonable doubt.
Gann's DNA matched a stain on the woman's clothing, and his attorney never contested that some sexual contact occurred. Instead, public defender Reed Owens argued that since neither Gann nor his accuser remembered the roughly 12 hours in question, there was no way to prove the contact wasn't consensual.
"This case is about the big chunk of time we have where we don't know the circumstances of what happened," Owens told jurors during closing arguments. "We know something happened — the DNA evidence tells us that — but at the end of this trial we are no closer to knowing exactly what that was and what the circumstances were."
Gann had been in custody since July, when he was arrested in Oregon and extradited to Breckenridge. He was released after the mid-afternoon acquittal, which followed roughly two hours of jury deliberations.
“We know something happened
— the DNA evidence tells us that
— but at the end of this trial we are no closer to knowing exactly what that was and what the circumstances were.”Reed Owenspublic defender representing Christopher Jay Gann
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The incident occurred late last January, when the woman woke up half-naked in the passenger seat of Gann's car around 3 a.m. with no idea how she got there. Gann, meanwhile, was in the house asleep. He had been drinking since 10 a.m. the previous day and blacked out.
Gann's defense was buoyed significantly by testimony of two witnesses who had been with Gann and his accuser that day.
On Friday, the defense called the man who lived full time at the home near Breckenridge where the incident happened, which served as temporary housing for acquaintances who needed a place to stay.
Like the defense's other witness, an eccentric man who provided colorful testimony on Thursday, the man said the woman had been drinking all day but didn't seem dangerously impaired.
The charges against Gann required prosecutors to prove his accuser was physically helpless at the time of the encounter, incapable of appraising the nature of her conduct or both.
The man corroborated parts of the other witnesses' testimony, saying the two were watching a movie in the evening when the woman came downstairs naked from the waist down.
"She walked well, we didn't have to help her in any way," the man said. "It looked like she was trying to find food or something. … I asked her if she was OK and she just kind of grunted."
The other witness, who was with Gann and the woman during the day, said they had both been drinking heavily. (During her testimony, the woman said she only had a few sips of liquor all day.)
As prosecutor Johnny Lombardi noted during cross-examination, that seemed somewhat inconsistent with the man's initial statements to police, where he described the woman as seeming "pretty out of it."
During his closing statements, Lombardi assailed the credibility of the other witness, a self-styled gypsy who said he "didn't live in time" and had threatened to call up Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren when police first tried to question him.
Lombardi also walked the jury through the accuser's harrowing ordeal, emphasizing the emotional and physical trauma of the night. After waking up half-naked with numb hands and feet in near-zero weather, the woman went to St. Anthony Summit Medical Center in Frisco to undergo a grueling forensic nurse exam, which documented her abrasions and bruises.
The woman didn't test positive for any date-rape drugs other than alcohol, although she had taken her regular prescription medications that day and smoked marijuana. A smoothie she drank in the afternoon, which coincided closely with her memory loss, also likely contained marijuana.
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