After heading into the deliberation room more than a week earlier, a Santa Barbara jury emerged Monday afternoon with a verdict, finding Steven Neff guilty of two counts of attempted sexual penetration with enhancements to the crime that could land him 25 years in state prison when he is sentenced next month.
Neff was accused of injecting two women-one he knew and one he didn’t-with Ketamine, and assaulting them sexually while they were unconscious. The verdict meant the jury ultimately didn’t believe Neff, who took the stand in his own defense. According to prosecutor Ron Zonen, Neff probably hurt more than he helped himself when he testified.
His decision to take the stand-made against the advice of his attorney Michael Hanley as well as the advice of Hanley’s boss-opened the door for Zonen to get into grossly stunning details about Neff’s thoughts and personal life that the jury, though already privy to a multitude of sickening facts and allegations, hadn’t yet heard. “I thought it worked better for me,” Zonen said. “He didn’t fare well on cross examination.”
With Neff taking the stand, Zonen was able to introduce as evidence several journals and calendars in which Neff took meticulous notes, often writing down thoughts and dreams, as well as documenting his habitual masturbating. Included were entries about dreams during which he would spy on his girlfriend and later rape her, as well as an incident when he orgasmed while watching a rape scene from a television soap opera.
But it wasn’t his disturbing thoughts, but two actual attacks on women in 2002 that ultimately got Neff in trouble. The first was on a then-20-year-old woman who was running on the beach. Though a sexual assault examination proved inconclusive, a lot of sand was found down her pants, and a small amount of Neff’s sperm was found on her running pants. Neff admitted injecting the woman with the drug, but denied even pulling down the victim’s pants. He said that in an adrenaline rush caused by the attack he masturbated through his athletic shorts over her unconscious body, which resulted in the discovery of his DNA on her pants.
The second attack came in his apartment against a coworker of his. The victim testified that after the two had drunk alcohol and smoked marijuana, she felt a pain in her neck and quickly lost her ability to function. She told jurors she believed Neff bound her limbs and hit her, gave her an enema, and then smeared what she believed to be her own feces on her own face and his. Neff denied any wrongdoing against his co-worker.
Complicating the case for the defense is the fact that both victims had a difficult time recollecting what actually took place. “That was a problem we had to deal with,” Zonen explained.
Jurors wrestled with both cases in their deliberations, re-watching a video of the beach victim’s sexual assault examination, while re-listening to the entirety of the co-worker’s earlier testimony on the stand. “It was a painstaking process,” one juror said. “But when it was said and done we came to the verdict. They were both difficult cases.”
On the stand Neff also admitted in his testimony that he attacked two other women, one a French tourist on East Beach and the other a skier on Mammoth Mountain, injecting both of them with Ketamine. He wasn’t charged in those crimes because the statute of limitations had expired by the time he was connected to the series of crimes in 2006.
Neff, who sat solemnly in his chair, shoulders slumping when the verdict was read, told the jury that three attacks on women were the result of a storyline he, a writer, had created in his head and was acting out. In this story he was the protagonist whose goal it was to travel the world, surfing and snowboarding along the way. To fund his endless journey, he said, he would find women tourists near hotels, inject them with Ketamine, steal their room keys, enter their room, and take their credit cards and valuables.
Neff’s sentencing is scheduled for November 30.