Erwin faces his accuser, law enforcement officials, in second day of testimony

Justin Erwin
Special to the Daily

EAGLE—People packed into a courtroom at the Eagle County Justice Center on Wednesday for the second day of testimony in the trial of Justin Cayce Erwin, one of four men accused of sexually assaulting a woman in a Silverthorne apartment on St. Patrick’s Day in 2016.

Wednesday’s testimony brought Erwin face-to-face with his accuser for the first time in the trial, along with two of the police officers that investigated the incident.

Silverthorne Police officer Joel Ponedel was the first to testify, providing jurors with a look inside the investigative process and providing context for how Erwin was implicated in the incident.

Ponedel was initially made aware of the alleged assault after being contacted by a nurse at St. Anthony Summit Medical Center, where the woman was receiving a sexual assault nurse examination. He went to the hospital on March 18, the day following the incident, where he interviewed the woman’s boyfriend at the time.

It was the boyfriend who filled Ponedel in on what had occurred. He provided Ponedel with a receipt he found with Erwin’s name and phone number on it, along with a text exchange he had with the woman earlier that morning, which was presented to the jury on Tuesday.

Ponedel and Erwin spoke four times on the phone between March 19 and 30. Their conversations were recorded, and played for the courtroom during testimony. Erwin’s responses during the conversations stray dramatically from other testimony.

In the recordings, Erwin said that he didn’t know how the woman would have gotten a receipt with his name and phone number and claimed he had never met or spoken to the woman. Erwin also said that he lost his wallet that night, and hoped Ponedel was calling regarding that. He claimed he walked home from the bar that night. “I did not hang out with any (name removed), I don’t remember even talking to her,” he told Ponedel. “I don’t remember seeing anybody like that.”

In a subsequent phone call, Erwin said that he looked the woman up on Facebook and said that she didn’t look familiar. Ponedel asked Erwin to come in and fill out a police report about his missing wallet, however, Erwin never came, claiming that he had found his wallet at his residence.

Ponedel and Silverthorne detective Theresa Barger, who also testified on Wednesday, executed a search warrant of the apartment where the alleged assault took place on March 30. There they located Erwin’s wallet, including his ID and credit cards with his name.

Ramon Villa, another man accused of taking part in the assault, was renting the apartment at the time.

Erwin’s date on St. Patrick’s Day also gave a conflicting account of what happened that night in an overall spotty testimony. The date, a self-described longtime friend of Erwin, accompanied him to the Silverthorne bar that night where the incident began to take shape.

According to her testimony, she recalls the accuser being present and being “all over” Erwin.

“I remember being jealous, because I did have affections for Justin, and she was all over him,” she said.

The date noted that she also remembers seeing Michael Gelber, another of the accused, at the bar that night. She said she didn’t run into any of the others accused of taking part in the alleged assault — Villa and Paul Garvin. She added that both she and Erwin had been to Villa’s apartment before that night on a number of occasions.

During questioning, prosecutor Lisa Hunt pointed to testimony the witness gave during a previous hearing in May 2017, wherein she told detective Barger that the accuser was highly intoxicated. During cross-examination by defender Ashley Petrey, the witness recanted parts of her story, saying that she had lied to Barger in an attempt to help Erwin.

“It’s not in his character, he’s not a bad person,” said the witness. “I wanted to help. I lied a few times.”

She said that the woman wasn’t showing any signs of intoxication aside from her loud, obnoxious and flirty behavior, but said she thought she “wasn’t sober.” The date left and went home without Erwin that evening.

Finally the accuser took the stand, in what would prove to be a highly emotional and, at times, confrontational testimony. The woman recalls most of the early part of the day very positively. She had recently completed a fitness class and went out to celebrate with her classmates at a restaurant in Frisco for dinner. She said she had two or three glasses of wine and a shot of tequila while there. The woman’s state of mind and level of inebriation will become the key factor in deciding if she was able to consent to the group sex acts that took place later that night.

Petrey brought it to the court’s attention that the tequila shot described by the woman was not included in discovery, and something the woman never testified to during Garvin’s trial last year.

According to the accuser, her boyfriend picked her up from the restaurant and the two retired to the Moose Jaw for another drink. By that point she said she was starting to feel the affects of the alcohol.

“I was pretty drunk. Not really drunk, but I was warm. Buzzed.”

The woman was taking a generic form of Prozac by prescription at the time, though it’s unknown at this time how, if at all, it may have reacted to the alcohol.

It was after arriving at the Silverthorne bar that the woman began to experience memory loss, she said. She recalls sitting down and ordering drinks with her boyfriend. Two bartenders at the bar that night previously testified that they refused to serve the woman. No witnesses thus far saw the woman drink anything but water during her time at the bar.

The woman remembers little else. When questioned about her behavior that night, and interactions with a number of men at the bar, she said she couldn’t recall what happened. Nor did she remember the confrontation with her boyfriend, their text exchange or him leaving. She said she had no recollection of speaking to Erwin or any of the others accused while at the bar.

She said that she does recall moments toward closing not being able to find her boyfriend. She also recalls leaving with a couple men.

“I vaguely remember being carried, almost dragged by two people on both sides of me,” she said. “There was a lot of snow and it was cold … my next memory is being held down by multiple men, somebody coming in the room and saying ‘what the hell, guys, you broke my bed,’ and being raped.”

Four videos showing parts of the sex acts that night were captured on video on Villa’s cellphone and were shown privately to the jury. Petrey questioned the woman regarding a few moments in the video where the woman can be heard seemingly urging the men on verbally, though the woman maintains she never consented to any sex acts.

The accuser’s next memories came the following morning, when she woke up naked next to a man she didn’t recognize. She looked around the apartment to find her clothes, noticing another man under covers in a different room. She collected her things, aside from her underwear that she couldn’t find. She asked the man she woke up next to for a ride home, to which he replied he didn’t have a car. She left on foot quickly, made a mental note of the location and took a bus back to her residence before heading to the hospital for the sexual assault exam.

Petrey pressed the woman on the fact that she told several people she believed she had been drugged — there were no traces of any date rape drugs found in her blood or urine samples — implying she made it up after the fact. Petrey continued to assert that the woman had consented to group sex that night, and lied about it for financial and reputational reasons. The accuser admitted that she did receive financial help from a local church after the incident, but that the incident had become much more of a financial burden than windfall as she couldn’t work for about eight months afterward.

Two of the cases stemming from the incident have already been adjudicated. Garvin was convicted of Class 2 sexual assault in Summit County District Court in October 2017, and sentenced to prison for a minimum of 16 years. Gelber pleaded guilty to a reduced felony charge and two misdemeanors last month. Villa pleaded not guilty to felony sexual assault charges in December, and is slated to head to court in Eagle in September.

The trial began on Monday morning and is expected to last into next week. Testimony will continue on Thursday morning at 8:30 a.m.

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