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Defense attorney Robert Sanger (left) and Eric Frimpong in court February 2008

Paul Wellman

Defense attorney Robert Sanger (left) and Eric Frimpong in court February 2008


Frimpong Case: Jane Doe Tries to Remember

Chapter Seven of Joel Engel’s Eric Frimpong Investigation


Read the previous chapter here.

By the time Jane Doe met with Deputy District Attorney Mary Barron on April 11, the prosecution knew that it was indeed Randall’s DNA, not Eric’s, in Doe’s underwear. They were joined in Barron’s office by her chief investigator, Paul Kimes, who recorded the interview that was often as instructive for what wasn’t said - or asked - as for what was.

Um, nothing happened that day,” Doe said. “Um, might’ve gone to class” - anthropology, which might have been her only class that Friday, though she didn’t really remember, having since dropped it.

Her answer didn’t match what she’d told Detective Kies fewer than two months before, when she described February 16 as having been a “really good day” with Krishna and Wolfson, because she’d passed both the DMV test to get her license back and the memorization test at Silvergreens restaurant that would allow her to begin work there. This failed recollection must have concerned Barron, who asked whether Doe had done “anything” with her “roommates” that day. “No,” Doe insisted.

Yet somehow at trial she was able to remember clearly that February 16 had been “a really good day” passing both tests, going to an anthropology class in the morning, and attending a section for that class in the afternoon.

The four of us went to my friend Colin’s house who we hang out at a lot,” Doe told Barron, who did not ask for Colin’s last name (it’s Mahin), and seemed satisfied when Doe claimed she didn’t know where he lived.

Doe recalled 15 people or so hanging out at Colin’s, where she said she drank “a few beers” before leaving sometime before 10 to drop in at “our friend Steve’s house.” (Barron didn’t ask for Steve Ramajad’s last name.) Krishna claimed back pain and walked home, while Doe’s sister left to visit her friend in Carpinteria. That left Mia Wolfson to walk with Doe to Ramajad’s, accompanied by several others, including Benjamin Randall.

At Ramajad’s, Doe said, she drank more vodka and some rum and was “probably like tipsy : not like, ‘Oh I’m so drunk.’”

Soon after 11 p.m. - when the booze had run out and after Randall had left on some mysterious mission to attend to his friend Jennika Machado “who was having a hard time and she needed some consultation,” as he put it at trial - Doe decided to go the party held by the ATO seniors, at 6681 Del Playa.

Wolfson, however, wanted to go home. She may also have been concerned about Doe, who by accounts had been far more drunk the week before. Reading between the lines of testimony, one might infer that Wolfson and Doe exchanged words regarding Doe’s admitted need to party long past everyone else. Though Wolfson testified under oath that she left Ramajad’s, returned to the dorm, and fell asleep until she was awakened about 1:20 a.m. by Krishna, a call from Wolfson’s cell phone was made to Doe’s at 40 minutes past midnight. It would not be unreasonable to suggest that Wolfson, already worried about Doe’s level of intoxication at 11 p.m., was checking on her friend who had gone to the party at 6681 seeking more alcohol. (Sanger did not ask Wolfson about this call, and when I phoned Wolfson at the same number to inquire, she responded, “I don’t know that I made that call.”)

Doe explained to Barron that while walking to 6681 she’d called her sister, because she always calls someone “whenever I walk alone” in order to avoid looking “like a loser.” Outside the party, from 11:22 to 11:32 p.m., she placed seven calls to her high school friends, Ryan Flum and Hunter Penland, the ATO members who were supposed to get her in. When they didn’t answer, she said, she noticed the young black man leaning against a car; he invited her to play beer pong with him and his friends at home - “just down the street.” And they walked there.

Do you remember having a conversation at some point with Ben [Randall]?” Barron asked.

Yeah,” Doe said. “He called me when I was : walking with Eric to his house.” Then she added something that seems peculiar: “That’s why that call is probably really good.”

Good for what? In none of her previous or subsequent answers did she offer editorial comment about hidden meanings, nor did she note that she’d received a call from Penland just before Randall’s call.

Do you remember seeing Ben?” Barron asked.

No,” Doe said.

Or just talking?”

But he saw me.”

Again, this gratuitously emphatic response raises suspicions. But not, it seems, in Barron, even when Doe admitted that her memory was less than dependable: “There’s like bits and pieces missing, and then there’s a huge chunk missing.”

Was anybody else with you when you went to Eric’s?” she asked.

No.”

Ben didn’t go along with you or anything?”

No.”

Both no answers were uttered in the same clipped manner that, in poker, might be considered “tells” for the way they differed from all other times when she uttered the single syllable in full.

Any other of your friends with you guys?” Barron asked. “It was just the two of you?”

On this issue, Doe had been consistent. It was, she’d always said, just her and Eric walking. So why had Barron asked? The logical explanation is that she had read or listened to Eric’s interview with Kies, and noted that - long before Randall became part of the story - Eric had described “that guy” accompanying them.

When Doe mentioned meeting Eric’s roommates and playing beer pong, Barron asked, “Was there anything about anybody going out to smoke or wanting to have a cigarette that you can remember?”

I don’t know,” Doe answered.

This was a revealing question and answer. Only from Detectives Scherbarth and Ruth, owing to their unmemorialized interview, could the prosecutor have learned about Doe’s telling Eric she wanted to smoke and Eric’s accompanying her next door to Dolphin Park.

Do you smoke at all?” Barron asked.

Yeah. I do.”

Did you smoke at all with him, do you think?”

Probably. But I don’t know : ‘cause like I don’t - again I don’t even know since there’s that chunk missing, I don’t even know how much time passed between me being up there [on Eric’s back patio, playing beer pong] and then me being on the beach.”

Barron asked, “Do you remember walking down to the beach, or how did you go from playing beer pong?”

I don’t know,” Doe said, adding later that she thought they “walked down the stairs. But I don’t remember. It was close.”

Once they were down on the beach, Doe said, “physical aggression” escalated quickly. She didn’t remember whether Eric tried to kiss her, but did remember being thrown “to the ground” (not the sand) and choked to stop her from screaming.

This account differs from the previous interviews when she’d described being hit. In fact, she acknowledged that after the detectives insisted she’d been bitten, she had changed her mind about having been hit. Yet in court she testified that “at some point I was hit” on the right side of her face, in addition to being bitten. (A blow on the right side of the face is generally delivered by a left-handed person. Eric is right-handed.)

How, Barron asked, did she know that this assailant was the same person she’d been playing beer pong with? His accent, Doe answered. “And I remember him looking at me, and I remember him biting my face.”

You may remember things now better than what you did when you were interviewed by the detectives,” Barron told her - precisely the opposite of what she would tell good Samaritan Justin Hannah when he was in her office two days later and maintained that he didn’t remember Doe covered in sand. To Hannah, she explained that it’s normal for memories to fade over time, not improve.

How long did he bite you?” Barron asked Doe.

It was just like a really like tight as like tight as you could feel squeezed,” Doe said, remembering better than when she was interviewed by the detectives but not as well as she would eight months later. The new details she would add during her court testimony were that the bite “felt like it was like the hardest thing in the world, but it was just like a burning sensation” while her arms “were still out to the side. Or pinned back.”

As she would in court, Doe painted a desultory word portrait of an attack that, all things considered, would’ve required an attacker with eight hands - or a weapon. At the same time that he was holding both of her arms down so she couldn’t fight back, he was allegedly squeezing her throat so she couldn’t scream, taking off his own belt and pants, then hers, forcibly spreading her legs, and inserting his penis into a defiantly wriggling torso.

Most young women who wear tight jeans - and young men who have tried to get into them - know that it requires two willing hands and obliging hips to remove them without doing damage to either the person or the pants, which would have left her arms free to fight back. And even if he’d managed to do this all with one hand, that still would have left one of her arms free. Sanger, perhaps fearing that he would look like a bully, did not ask Doe in court to go step by step through the attack as a way of demonstrating how dubious her story was.

All my knuckles were screwed up,” Doe said. “Like I almost felt I had maybe tried to hit him or had hit him.” Her right ring finger, the one bearing a large ring, was particularly sore - making it all the more likely that Eric would have suffered cuts, at least superficial ones. But the SART nurse less found no cuts or scratches on him less than a day later.

Asked how long the assailant was “inside” her, Doe explained that the following day she had settled on 15 minutes as the duration. “But then since there’s that huge chunk of time that I actually don’t remember, then it could be anything. So I don’t know.”

Doe clarified that she remembered only the “very, very, very beginning” before coming to in the fetal position, “grabbing my clothes [that were lying 10 feet away], and then crying, then like running up the stairs, I guess” without bothering to take her purse and shoes. In court, Doe would add the details of coming to on her right side, staring at the ocean, her back to the cliffs, seeing her pants and underpants, putting them on, “not thinking about” her shoes or purse.

She would also add another detail: “scrambling as best as I could” up to Del Playa and “crawling to get up as fast as I could,” using “the stairs and some plants that I was kind of grabbing on to to make me go faster.” This happened, she believed, “near the entrances farther down [Del Playa] from campus,” though she couldn’t say it had been the Camino Pescadero stairs and didn’t know whether it was the same beach access she’d gone down. But, Barron asked, did she recall walking on the beach?

No.”

None of Doe’s inconsistencies or memory gaps, regardless of size or importance, seemed to undermine Barron’s confidence in her accusing witness. Now faced with geographic, topographic, biological, and logical holes in the case, this smart deputy district attorney - who had not so long before prosecuted an African man accused of kidnapping and raping a drunk white girl on the campus of Santa Barbara City College - pressed ahead despite whatever doubts she might have had.

Near the end of the interview, Doe answered that the panties she’d gone out in that night were clean and not the same pair she’d worn when she and Benjamin Randall had last had intercourse. This could not have pleased Barron, who wouldn’t be able to blame the tell-tale semen on a previous tryst, condom or no condom.

Now Doe herself asked a question that should have sounded alarms for Barron in light of Doe’s spotty memory, prior inconsistent statements and apparent blackout, Randall’s sudden and unsolicited emergence, and his DNA in her panties. Apropos nothing, Doe said, “Are you going to contact like Hunter or Ryan?”

Some minutes earlier they had gone over the phone records and focused on how many unanswered calls she’d placed to both while hoping to get into the ATO party. But Barron changed the subject without noting aloud that Hunter Penland (whose last name she did not know and did not inquire about) had actually reached Doe for 105 seconds at 11:41 p.m., just before Randall’s call.

The alleged rape had happened barely 10 weeks before, and the investigation was still ongoing with plenty of gray areas and unanswered questions. So why was Barron so incurious about these two young men, friends of Jane Doe, who had been near 6613 Del Playa that night?

We may want to, yeah,” Barron said of possibly contacting Flum and Penland. “We’ll get that information from you. Well you, you know, we don’t - ”

Ryan knows about it,” Doe said. “So that wouldn’t be a problem. But I don’t talk to Hunter very much : So it would be really weird.”

Okay, all right,” Barron said. “Well, we’ll keep that in mind.”

He probably knows about it though, right?” Kimes asked.

Yeah, but he doesn’t know it was me,” Doe said. “Like I didn’t tell anyone.”

We don’t have to talk to him necessarily right now,” Barron said. “We are gonna talk to your girlfriends that you were with, though.”

Yeah, they remember more than I do,” Doe said, stating another fact that might have revealed more than she’d intended.

It would have been cagey of Barron, her suspicions raised, to promise Doe that neither young man would be involved - but then to investigate quietly. Nowhere in the discovery files, however, do the names Hunter Penland and Ryan Flum appear. So there was nothing cagey about Barron’s pledge to Doe.

This is not to suggest that I suspect or accuse Flum or Penland of anything. But in the context of Mary Barron’s closing argument to the jury, in which she claimed the phone records “tell a story” that incriminate Eric because he didn’t make calls between 11:56 p.m. and 1:02 a.m. (she ignored a call he received at 12:13 a.m.) - an hour period, by the way, for which Benjamin Randall has no alibi - I find myself wondering what story Jane Doe’s phone records tell. On Valentine’s Day, the day she claimed she didn’t want to be with Randall, she and Flum uncharacteristically exchanged eight calls. Compare that to a single 32-second call in the previous five days, then two calls during the daytime of February 16, reportedly about the ATO party, and the flurry of calls around 11:30 p.m. that night while she was trying to get in.

More intriguing is the call Flum made to Doe about 25 hours after the incident, 2:13 a.m. in the morning - a time she rarely if ever took or made calls - followed by one at noon. Neither call, judging by their brevity, was answered. But at 4:30 that afternoon, just minutes before Doe placed the alleged “I didn’t want to see him for a while” call to Randall, she called Flum for 57 seconds. Four more calls followed the next day, two made by each, and then nothing until Doe called him March 1.

What story do those calls tell? Had Doe told Flum, too, that she didn’t want to see him for a while? If so, why? Is it possible that Doe left Eric’s at 12:15 a.m. and wandered back to 6681, which is closer to Camino Pescadero and 6613 Del Playa? Or is there a much more innocuous explanation? I don’t know. And neither does Barron, who had the power and authority to find out but didn’t. Her investigation, it seems, left as many stones unturned as turned.

Read the next chapter in the serieshere.

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Joel Engel is the bestselling author of more than a dozen books. As a journalist, he has written on a wide variety of subjects for many national publications, and contributed frequently to the New York Times. You can contact him at joelengel@yahoo.com

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