Prosecution and defense attorneys made their opening statements to the jury and Judge George McCarthy Friday in Athens County Common Pleas Court in the rape trial of a former Ohio University student.
Roxon Kofi Osei, 23, of Columbus, is charged with one count alleging that he raped a female OU student in early January 2017 by force, and another rape count alleging that her ability to resist or consent was “substantially impaired” because of her intoxication (and that Osei knew that was the case).
Athens County Assistant Prosecutor Elizabeth Pepper said in her opening statement that the reported victim was celebrating her 21st birthday on the night in question in January. She presented a picture of the woman with her head on the toilet in Stephen’s Bar after having vomited on the night of the party, juxtaposed with a statement that she alleged came from Osei when he was interviewed by police a few weeks after the incident.
“It was like seriously like, yeah, she was pretty f***ed up but… like I really shouldn’t have done it like I’m uh, I’ll take any punishment that comes my way. It was poor judgment on my part… and I am ready to face the consequences,” Osei allegedly told Athens Police officer Thomas Simpson.
Pepper said it was meant to be a night of fun, something the alleged victim had been planning for about a month; she showed a picture of the woman smiling before the party, holding 21st birthday balloons.
But Pepper said that when the woman woke up the next morning after the night of the party, she was still wearing her dress and her coat, but was missing her underwear. “She was in pain, vaginal pain, physical pain and emotional pain because to think and realize that that shred of memory that she thought was only a nightmare was somehow a reality… that small shred of memory in a cloud of black she had from that night, where defendant Kofi who was supposed to be her friend was on top of her, forcing his penis into her vagina,” Pepper said.
Pepper said that the woman had passed out on her bed at home after getting home from the party, and Pepper alleged that Osei raped her knowing that she had been slurring her speech, (and) couldn’t hold a conversation, speak coherently, or “walk on her own.” Pepper added that the woman had abrasions on her vagina and vaginal bleeding the morning of the incident (the rape allegedly occurred in the early morning hours of Jan. 10; her party was the evening of Jan. 9).
Defense attorney John Rutan of Columbus argued that it was a “casual,” consensual birthday “hookup.” He also said that Osei and the woman had a “prior relationship,” and claimed that about a month prior to the night in question, he “professed his love to her” and said he wanted to date her. Rutan added that they went on a “long date” the day after that; then the two went on a “break” while the alleged victim went to the Dominican Republic over OU’s winter break.
“This is why you have trials; did you know if you drink and drive you cannot blame the car for your mistake?” Rutan asked the jury. “In this case, Roxon is the car. Regret doesn’t equal rape, and some things in this case do not add up.”
Rutan said that Osei in his statement to police and on a Facebook post of Osei’s that Pepper shared in her opening statement was apologizing for “making a mistake,” but was not admitting that he had sexually assaulted someone. He read a text message he said was from Osei to the victim, reading, “You don’t remember anything from last night? Please don’t think I’d do something with you without your permission; I’d never do that.”
“He cared for her, knew her for two years, and wanted to date her, then he’s being falsely accused? Any good man in his right mind is going to apologize, but an apology is not an admission of guilt.”
According to witness testimony Friday, Osei had been a friend of the woman for roughly two years, was invited to the birthday party, and ended up walking home with her and some out-of-town friends who were visiting for the party and staying with her.
A TOTAL OF FIVE witnesses testified during the trial Friday, including some of those out-of-town friends. OU alumna Sarah Franks, a close friend of the alleged victim who shared the birthday party with her, also testified. Franks said that she recalled the woman drinking “lots of drinks” – including testifying (along with some of the other witnesses) that she and the woman had been “iced” on two occasions. This is when somebody buys them a Smirnoff Ice alcoholic drink and they are forced to chug it. Franks testified that Osei bought her one of those drinks; she and the other witnesses testified that they saw Osei buying her drinks throughout the night.
Micayla Benyi, one of the friends who came to Athens to visit the alleged victim for her party, testified that other people were buying the woman drinks, too – including shots and mixed drinks, on top of already having drunk a mixed drink and two shots before leaving for the party (they arrived at Stephen’s around 7:30).
Franks said that she saw Osei watching the victim dance, and heard him say, “I’ve got to get (her) tonight.” Franks said she interpreted it as Osei wanting to win her over, rather than it being a predatory remark, however.
Benyi and Franks both testified that this was the drunkest they had ever seen the woman, with her stumbling and falling while dancing once or twice, Benyi said.
Franks testified that she helped the woman hold her hair back late in the evening, around midnight or after, when she was vomiting in the toilet of Stephen’s. Picture and video evidence to support that event was shown to the jury, with vomit clearly on the toilet next to her head. Soon after that, Benyi said some people helped her up the stairs to the ground level of Stephen’s.
Rutan questioned Franks on cross-examination about the statement she had given to police previously, about the alleged victim being “sick drunk” versus “blackout drunk,” and that the woman was “blackout drunk.” Franks clarified that “sick drunk” includes being “blackout drunk,” and is worse than being “blackout,” although defense attorney Rutan suggested that she was embellishing her story for the jury (at multiple points Judge McCarthy admonished him for being “argumentative” with witnesses).
Benyi testified that she walked the woman home with Kaitlyn Sutton, another out-of-town friend who testified, and Osei. Benyi and Sutton said they didn’t know Osei well, but said they thought he was a close friend of the woman’s, so they didn’t think it strange.
Prosecutors showed a video of Benyi’s, showing Osei and Sutton holding the woman on each side by her arms and helping her walk up the hill to her home. She can be heard saying something incoherent about “a blessing,” with Benyi testifying that she thought the victim was saying her friends were a blessing for carrying her.
When they got back home, Benyi and Sutton testified that the alleged victim flopped down face-first on the couch. She was moved to her bedroom, where she fell face-first onto her bed with her high heels on, Benyi said, adding that she removed her shoes. Benyi left the room (Osei was in that room, she said), and when she came back to get something from the room, the door was closed and locked.
She testified that when she knocked on the door, she heard a rustling of sheets and possibly “clothes,” and also the sound of a “belt” being taken on or off, with a minute or so delay between her knocking on the door to Osei coming to the door and opening it. She and witness James Laisure, another friend from out of town, testified that the victim was still lying down on the bed; she said she asked the victim if she was okay, and she muttered or grunted the phrase, “mmm.”
Benyi testified that she told Osei “do not touch her; she is blacked-out drunk.” Then she left the room, leaving the door open. She came back five minutes later, she said, and the door was again closed and locked. She knocked, and again heard the same noises as before (including the sound of the belt), with another delay in Osei opening the door, with Osei seeming agitated.
This happened a third time before some of the woman’s other friends arrived and told Osei to leave despite his protests; they ended up putting his phone outside until he left, Benyi and Sutton said.
Benyi testified that she went back to the bedroom after Osei left, and asked the woman if Osei had touched her, with her mumbling something that sounded like, “mmhm,” which Benyi said she took to mean that Osei had touched her. During the entire time when Osei was in the bedroom with her, none of the witnesses testified that they had heard the alleged victim say anything, outside of the two brief vocalizations noted above.
Benyi, Sutton and another witness and out-of-town friend, Mary Oyster, said that the next day, the woman told them about noticing she was bleeding vaginally. Benyi said she seemed “disappointed and sad,” and withdrawn, and said the woman nodded her head when Benyi asked if Osei had had sex with her. Benyi, Sutton and Laisure said they had encouraged her to report the incident as a crime.
Rutan jumped in on his cross-examination of Benyi and the others, asking them if they had “badgered” the woman that morning to report it as a crime because she was embarrassed; they said that wasn’t the case.
The woman went to the hospital and Police Department the day after that morning, the witnesses said. Further testimony and medical evidence are expected to be presented in the trial today (Monday).