After Judge Frank Ochoa paused proceedings to give those present a Jesusita Fire evacuation update, defense attorney Lara Yeretsian and prosecutor Joyce Dudley rested their cases in the trial of Peter Jeschke on Tuesday. The former Santa Barbara High School tennis coach is accused of supplying drugs and alcohol to some of the teens on his team, and of having sex with one of them. While no direct physical evidence was presented during the trial, testimony and reports from detectives, school officials, and students, as well as recordings of phone calls between Jeschke and the teen girl, were offered in support of the allegations. Yeretsian has focused on discrepancies between witness testimonies and their statements to police, and the teen’s knowledge of the drugs she allegedly took with Jeschke.
Jeschke’s case was not helped when, last Friday, two teenaged witnesses subpoenaed by Dudley testified that Jeschke had called them in the months leading up to the trial. They said the coach requested that they call or email particular teens he knew were scheduled to testify, and ask those witnesses to change their stories or not to testify at all. One of Jeschke’s former players, now a 19-year-old first-year student at UCLA, testified that in the days leading up to the trial, Jeschke contacted her several times asking her to call some of the case’s key witnesses. At first, she said, she refused to do it, but relented after he continued to pressure her. One day before the trial began, the young woman-who was offered immunity from prosecution by the District Attorney’s Office-said she created a fake Facebook account, using it to send threatening messages to the teen Jeschke allegedly had sex with, as well as two other witnesses.
The 19-year-old’s brother, who is an 18-year-old senior at Santa Barbara High School and also one of Jeschke’s former students, testified that Jeschke had called him making similar requests. “It wasn’t my position to go out and tell my friends to lie, and I didn’t want to get involved,” he said during his testimony. Although he said that he did not wish to testify and was only doing so because he was subpoenaed, the young man told the court that he had used marijuana and drunk alcohol with Jeschke on several occasions while Jeschke was his tennis coach. Both brother and sister looked extremely uncomfortable as they testified, while Jeschke stared at some distant, fixed point, mouth agape.
For the past few days, the defense has focused upon proving that there is doubt as to whether or not Jeschke actually gave ecstasy and cocaine to the teen girl, who testified earlier in the trial. On Monday, May 4, the defense summoned Dr. Ronald K. Siegel, a research professor at UCLA’s Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, who has written extensively on the effects of drug use, having lived with cocaine users and shadowed ecstasy users at Los Angeles night clubs in order to observe them. Siegel suggested that because the alleged teen victim described in her testimony symptoms similar to those exhibited by users of cocaine and ecstasy substitutes containing high amounts of caffeine, she could not have taken the real drugs. Siegel’s blithe delivery, which included a number of jokes, tangents, and generalizations, appeared to rub Dudley the wrong way during her cross-examination, and the two had several bouts of argument, replete with raised voices, over Yeretsian’s objections.
The next day, the DA’s office called its own drug expert-Sergeant Todd Johnson-who wrote the Santa Barbara Police Department’s field service manual on drug recognition. Respectfully noting Siegel’s work as an academic, Johnson disagreed with the professor’s opinion, saying that the symptoms described by the alleged victim were in fact consistent with hundreds of cocaine and ecstasy users he had observed while on duty.
Closing statements are scheduled for Thursday morning, May 7.