Steven Neff, found guilty by a Santa Barbara jury in October of two counts of attempted unlawful penetration and additional enhancements, was sentenced to 23 years in state prison on Monday, December 14, his 42nd birthday.
Neff, who admitted on the stand to attacking and injecting at least four women with Ketamine, a powerful sedative, will also have to register as a sex offender and pay restitution. Hands cuffed together, and dressed in jail-issue scrubs in place of the suit he had been wearing throughout the trial, Neff told the court he had a “broken heart and a contrite spirit,” and that he had let down his family as well as the community. Neff also thanked the judge, Senior Deputy District Attorney Ron Zonen, and his own attorney, Deputy Public Defender Michael Hanley. “It’s been a long, hard journey, and I’m ready to move on,” Neff said. None of the victims of Neff’s crimes were present for his sentencing.
The charges related to two 2002 attacks-one on a co-worker, that took place in Neff’s apartment, and one that took place on a beach in Goleta. The first victim-then a 22-year-old UCSB student-was jogging on Haskell’s Beach when Neff grabbed her from behind, pinned her down, and injected her with Ketamine. Neff testified that while he had her down, he masturbated through his shorts. A small bit of his DNA was later found on her jogging shorts. The woman, who went in and out of consciousness during the attack, didn’t remember if she had been sexually assaulted. Neff denied sexually assaulting her, though he admitted to being more “sexually charged” because he was on drugs. Follow-up exams were inconclusive.
The more gruesome allegation came from a former co-worker of Neff’s who alleged she had been at Neff’s home, drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana, when he came up from behind where she was sitting on a couch and she felt a prick in her neck. She soon lost her ability to function but was partially consciousness. At some point she remembered Neff inserting an enema into her and losing control of her bowels. She felt him smearing something on her face as well as his, she told the jury when she took the stand, and she believed it to be her own excrement.
Neff addressed the court Monday before being sentenced. His hope, he said (to a courtroom that was empty except for a reporter and three jurors from his first trial), was that his meticulous journals and notes which were central to his conviction, would also help doctors understand and be able to help people “who have my problems.”
Neff, who took the stand during the trial against the advice of his attorney, ended up being his own worst enemy. Judge Rick Brown noted Neff’s testimony in explaining his sentence. He specifically called attention to Neff’s explanation of how he came to carry out the attacks. On the stand, Neff, who said he received formal training as a writer at the University of Iowa, said he attacked woman based on the premise of a story he had concocted. In this story, the protagonist would find female tourists staying at nearby hotels, inject them with Ketamine, steal their hotel room key and valuables, and while they were unconscious he would go to their hotel room and steal their belongings. This would all pay for a never-ending snowboard and surf trip around the world. Neff inserted himself into the protagonist’s role, and that is how he came to attack the women.
His decision to take the stand opened up the legal door for the prosecution to put into evidence his journals, which were very detailed, and filled with notes and scribbles and story ideas. In an entry from 1998, he described a character who was “: planning to chloroform women and gratify himself with their unconscious bodies.” In another he indicated he had dreamt of spying on a former girlfriend and then raping her.
Neff also told the jury he was a chronic masturbator, often several times a week, which was outlined in his journal. He testified that over a one-and-a-half year period with an ex-girlfriend, he injected her with Ketamine roughly 75 times, often having sexual intercourse with her in an unconscious state. The two would travel to Mexico to get the tranquilizing drug.
Neff also admitted to attacking a French tourist on a Santa Barbara beach and a woman who was skiing on a mountain in Mammoth. Those attacks, however, were not prosecuted because the statute of limitations had passed.
The prosecutor ran into statute of limitation-related problems at the end of Neff’s first trial, which resulted in Neff’s conviction on the exact same charges. Neff originally faced more serious felony charges of unlawful penetration with a foreign object but the jury couldn’t reach a verdict on those charges. Five days into deliberations in the first trial, the jury received new instructions detailing the option of finding Neff guilty of lesser offenses. Zonen, in court papers, said he hadn’t asked the judge to issue instructions on lesser offenses, as he thought those charges fell outside the statute of limitations. The statute of limitations generally allows a longer time to file charges for more serious offenses. After the jury found Neff guilty of the lesser charges, the public defender filed a motion for a retrial, which was granted by the judge. Zonen then re-filed charges but this time only for the lesser charges.
Brown, in sentencing Neff, said the man showed “callous disregard for the victims,” who experienced “sheer terror.” The crime involved planning and sophistication, the judge said, explaining why he sentenced Neff to the upper term of four years on the first charge of attempted unlawful penetration, plus 15 years for enhancements of using a deadly weapon-namely the syringe with which he administered Ketamine-and of inflicting great bodily injury. The judge chose a sentence of four years in connection to the second charge of attempted unlawful penetration, for a total of 23 years. “It’s appropriate,” Zonen said in response to the sentence. He declined to elaborate, citing the potential of a new charge involving another victim.