Bob Sanger, attorney for former UCSB soccer player and convicted rapist Eric Frimpong, has filed a motion for a new trial, based on perceived discrepancies during the trial, the jury deliberation and after.
Sanger filed motion after motion during the trial, which wrapped up just before the Christmas holiday, most of which were denied by Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Brian Hill. Many of those motions are reiterated in Sanger’s file for a new trial, while other arguments which came to light after the case are also highlighted. “While courts are reluctant to grant new trials, this case cries out for judicial intervention to avoid a life-shattering injustice,” Sanger wrote in the document, filed in court last month. Frimpong, a native of Ghana who graduated from UCSB last spring, was scheduled to be sentenced for the crime on January 31, but the hearing was delayed because the probation officer in charge of Frimpong’s case needed more time for a report. Frimpong is facing between three and eight years behind bars.
During jury deliberations, one of the jurors was arrested for driving under the influence, which Sanger argued should have led to that juror’s dismissal, as “alcohol was a central issue in this case.” The victim in the case admitted to having more than ten drinks over the course of the night in question, and state Department of Justice estimations suggest the victim could’ve had a blood-alcohol content level as high as .34. “There is no way a person in Juror Number 5’s position could have remained impartial in light of the fact that she was arrested for driving under the influence,” Sanger wrote.
The victim, a 19-year-old UCSB student, claimed that she met Frimpong early in the morning on February 17 outside of an Isla Vista party, when he invited her back to his house to play beer pong, points which Frimpong doesn’t dispute. After beer pong, she said, they went down to the beach, where he proceeded to rape her. He was arrested the next day. Frimpong supporters claim the two parted ways not long after the beer pong game, after he rejected passes she made at him. Alcohol, drunkenness and hazy memory were themes raised again and again in the case – in reference to both the night of the rape and to the victim’s previous outings.
The motion contains a declaration by one of the jury members, who claims that during deliberations a requested readback of testimony was interrupted and not properly conducted, and that the jury rushed through deliberations as a result of pressure to conclude the case by a certain day. The reason for the pressure, according to Sanger’s argument, was, among other things, the planned vacation of one of the jurors. “I feel that I made a terrible mistake,” the declaration of the juror said. “I felt rushed and stressed to conclude this case. We were not given the evidence we requested. I do not think the verdict was fair and it should be set aside.”
Sanger also argued that prosecutor Mary Barron had committed prosecutorial misconduct when, in her closing argument, explained that Frimpong had ten months to come up with an alibi but still had none. Frimpong, protected by the 5th amendment, had the constitutional right not to testify, Sanger argued, and Barron, in her argument statement, suggested that perhaps he should have. Hill denied a Sanger motion at the time, describing the comment as “brief and mild.” Sanger writes that he was not provided with evidence from the prosecution, including castings of the teeth of the victim’s boyfriend, Benjamin Randall, created by Dr. Norman Sperber, a prosecution witness. Randall’s semen was found in the victim’s panties she was wearing that night, a fact which should have made him a suspect, the defense argued, and Sanger didn’t receive the castings until mid-trial. Also, his dental expert was not able to respond to the castings because they were provided too late, and the doctor was ill at the time and undergoing surgery, unable to testify. “The cumulative effect of these errors was prejudicial to defendant,” Sanger wrote. “This was a close case and defendant was denied his right to a fair trial based on the factors described.”
The district attorney’s office will be filing an opposition to the motion before the next trial date, which is scheduled to be Feb. 28. Barron said the prosecution is on “solid legal grounds with regard to the issues that the allege,” and is currently working on the response. She declined to go into details about the motion until after the next court date.