Justin Erwin trial hears testimony from accuser’s boyfriend, bartenders

Justin Erwin
Special to the Daily

EAGLE—The trial of Justin Cayce Erwin began today at the Eagle County Justice Center, bringing testimony from the accuser’s former boyfriend and two of the bartenders who served them during the night in question.

Erwin, 41, is one of four men accused of sexually assaulting a woman in a Silverthorne apartment after a night out drinking on St. Patrick’s Day in 2016. The prosecution and defense took turns questioning the witnesses in an attempt to establish a timeline of events preceding the alleged assault, and to determine the accuser’s level of inebriation—what will ultimately serve as the basis to whether or not she was able to consent to the sex acts that took place later that night. On the night of the incident, her boyfriend Mike accompanied the woman for much of the evening. He testified that he picked her up at around 9 p.m. from a restaurant in Frisco where she was drinking and celebrating her recent completion of a fitness program with friends. Mike noted that she seemed in high spirits afterward, though gave no signs of inebriation.

“She seemed empowered,” he said. “That’s something she was always big on.”

The two then retired to the Moose Jaw bar in Frisco, where they each had another drink, according to Mike’s testimony. It wasn’t until later, after the two decided to try their luck with one more bar that the night began to take a darker turn.

According to testimony, they arrived at a crowded bar in Silverthorne before 11 p.m., where witness recollections of the night began to diverge. While Mike stated that the accuser never came across as impaired, the bartenders thought differently. Amy Rohland, one of the bartenders, testified that the woman “stumbled into her seat,” had slurred speech and tried to order drinks. The other barkeep, Katherine Kole, said she never saw any stumbling or slurred speech from the woman, but said “it was pretty obvious” she was inebriated on something, alcohol or not. District Attorney Bruce Brown noted in his opening statement that the accuser was taking prescription Prozac at the time, which could have reacted with the alcohol.

Both bartenders testified that they refused to serve the woman due to her perceived inebriated state; along with a clear pattern of inappropriate behavior she exhibited since arriving at the bar. Despite hours in the bar, neither of the bartenders nor her ex-boyfriend saw her consume any drinks.

Witnesses testified that she was loud and obnoxious throughout the night, and continuously flirting, touching and even kissing other men in the presence of her boyfriend. Mike left the bar after confronting her and she decided to stay, according to his testimony. He sent a text message breaking up with her from the parking lot.

While Mike admits that her behavior was atypical that night, he said she wasn’t debilitated when he left.

The bartenders’ said that her crude behavior continued throughout the night. Rohland, who recognized Erwin as a regular at the bar, said he left “arm in arm” with the woman at the end of the night.

The prosecution entered into evidence the bar tabs of Erwin that night, along with the three other men accused of taking place in the alleged assault—Paul Garvin, Michael Gelber and Ramon Villa. Aside from Erwin, none of the other accused were seen leaving with the woman.

Except for a brief text exchange late that night, Mike didn’t hear from his date until the next morning. The exchange, presented on screen to the jury, seemingly shows the woman in a state of confusion.

“What happened last night? Why did I not go home with you?” The first message said. “I am so sad 🙁 I got hurt last night,” she continued.

According to his testimony, Mike called her and they discussed the previous evening, and she filled him in on what little she could remember. She told him she believed she had been drugged and raped, and woke up in a strange apartment without her underwear. She told him that she was going to the hospital, where she was given a sexual assault nurse examination, or SANE test.

Mike offered to go let out her dog while she took care of the test. While in her apartment he discovered a receipt with the name “Justin” written alongside Erwin’s phone number. He took the note and later gave it to a law enforcement officer who interviewed him once he reached the hospital to meet the woman.

Upon seeing her, Mike noticed differences in her demeanor and physical appearance immediately.

“She looked different,” he noted. “She was very closed, holding herself. And she wouldn’t look me in the eye.”

He also described bruising and abrasions noticeable around her breasts and buttocks. Photos were shown to the jury depicting fairly severe bruising in both areas. Mike also said the incident had a lasting affect on the woman.

“Prior to St. Patrick’s Day I would describe her as being bubbly, friendly. She had a very powerful personality. After that day she was very lethargic, hesitant. Her confidence was gone.”

Two cases from the incident have already been adjudicated. Garvin was convicted of Class 2 sexual assault in Summit County District Court in October 2017. He was 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.

Judge John McMullen is presiding over the proceedings. Brown and Lisa Hunt are prosecuting the case, while Ashley Petrey and William Palmer are representing Erwin. The trial began on Monday morning with jury selection, and will continue at 8:30 Wednesday morning. The trial is expected to last until July 27.

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