Co-defendant testifies in Ramon Villa sexual assault trial
September 7, 2018
EAGLE — Jurors gathered for the second day of testimony at the Eagle County Justice Center on Friday in the trial of Ramon Villa, one of four men accused of sexually assaulting a woman too inebriated to consent on St. Patrick's Day 2016.
The day's witnesses included the forensic nurse who performed the accuser's sexual assault nurse examination the afternoon after the alleged assault, along with one of the men who interacted with the woman at the Silverthorne bar preceding the incident, and Michael Gelber, another of the accused in the case.
Kristi Hyde, the forensic nurse examiner for St. Anthony's Summit who performed the accuser's SANE exam, was the first to take the stand. In her testimony, Hyde recounted the accuser's demeanor throughout the six-plus hour exam, detailed the extensive injuries she sustained the night before and generally walked the jury through how the examination works.
Hyde describes the woman as "shell-shocked" when first arriving at the hospital for her examination.
"She appeared to be in pain, and was having difficulty walking and sitting," said Hyde. "She was tearful at times and very emotional."
Hyde also outlined the extent of the woman's injuries resulting from the alleged assault, individually detailing dozens of bruises, lacerations and excoriations found on her legs, breasts, back and buttocks. In addition, she also noted some vaginal tearing, which, while possible during consensual sex, is rare.
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"It wouldn't be common to see injury in the vagina from consensual sex," said Hyde. "It's very elastic tissue … in my opinion, her injuries were excessive."
According to Hyde, it's standard procedure (though not necessarily required) for nurses to photograph the injuries during a SANE exam, though the photographs in this case were lost by the hospital and never uploaded to the secured system. The jury was instead shown a pair of pictures that the accuser had taken of her left breast and buttocks, which Hyde said were consistent with the injuries she saw during the examination.
During the SANE exam, Hyde said that the woman tested positive for cocaine and THC, the psychoactive constituent in marijuana, during a presumptive test (an initial test to check for drugs in the system), but results came back negative on GHB and other date-rape drugs. Both blood and urine samples were taken during the exam, but were both lost and never turned over to law enforcement, meaning there was no chance for further testing.
The next to take the stand was a man present at the Silverthorne bar on the night in question. In his brief testimony, the man said that he remembers speaking with the woman for a "pretty short" amount of time, though he doesn't recall the topic of conversation. He noted that while he was somewhat inebriated, he didn't notice the woman stumble or give any overt outward clues she was intoxicated, nor did he see her drink anything.
The accuser's level of intoxication that night will ultimately serve as the deciding factor in whether or not she was able to consent to sex.
The lion's share of the testimony on Friday was given by Gelber, another of the four men accused of taking part in the alleged assault. Gelber, 47, agreed to a split-plea deal with the district attorney's office in June, receiving a deferred sentence on a felony sexual assault charge and being convicted of two misdemeanors. Gelber agreed to testify on behalf of the state, potentially reducing his ultimate sentence.
Gelber described the events that took place on St. Patrick's Day and the following morning. He said that he arrived alone at the Silverthorne bar at around 7 p.m. and first took notice of the accuser about an hour before closing. He noted that she was moving around the bar, flirting, touching and kissing a number of men.
Gelber said he first came into contact with Justin Erwin — another of the accused, who Gelber knew prior to the incident — and the accuser, who he hadn't met before that night, close to the bar's closing. According to Gelber, the two invited him to Ramon Villa's apartment for an "after-hours party." Before leaving, Erwin and Gelber discussed purchasing cocaine at Villa's apartment, as well as engaging in sexual conduct with the woman.
The three left together, arm-in-arm, for Villa's apartment. Gelber said the accuser was aware that they intended to purchase and indulge in cocaine and alcohol use before they arrived. Upon arrival, Villa let them into his apartment where Paul Garvin, another accused, was already waiting. Gelber remembers drinking a beer, but couldn't recall if anyone else was drinking in the apartment. He testified that everyone in the apartment — Villa, Erwin, Garvin, the accuser and himself — all took cocaine.
Gelber described his level of intoxication at the time as a six or seven out of 10, and said that the woman's level of intoxication was comparable. He noted that his memory of the night was somewhat spotty, and lacking in detail, but despite the length of Gelber's testimony, it's unclear if that's due to his level of intoxication or not.
"Everything I don't remember, I'm saying I don't remember," said Gelber. "The parts I say I remember, I believe I remember. Those are solid."
Gelber said that about an hour after arriving at Villa's apartment, the accuser, Villa and Erwin left the kitchen area and went into a bedroom where they started having sex. He said that Garvin and himself stood in the doorway watching for several minutes, though he believes the woman was aware of their presence. After 20 minutes, Gelber said he decided to join in. He said that all four men participated in the sex acts.
According to Gelber, at some point during the one to two hour sexual encounter, the woman requested lubricant for anal sex, which Villa retrieved.
Gelber also said that he didn't recall the woman asking them to stop, or for a break at any point. This was a minor point of contention between attorneys on Friday, as Gelber had previously viewed a video of the encounter in which the woman apparently asks for a break. The videos, however, were suppressed as evidence by the defense team, and Gelber said he didn't recall her asking for a break based on his independent recollection of events.
Gelber left the apartment first to prepare for work the next morning and said that the others were still engaged in sexual conduct when he left.
This is the fourth case stemming from the incident to be adjudicated. Garvin was convicted of felony sexual assault in October, and sentenced to a minimum of 16 years to life in prison. Erwin was found not guilty on 11 of 20 counts following his trial earlier this year. A mistrial was declared on the other nine counts.
Gelber will return to the stand on Monday at 9 a.m. for cross examination from the defense team. Deputy District Attorney Lisa Hunt is leading the prosecution for the state, while Stacey Shobe is leading Villa's defense team. Fifth Judicial District Judge Frederick Gannett is presiding.
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