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Former UI student found guilty of third-degree sexual abuse

BY BRENT GRIFFITHS | DECEMBER 03, 2012 6:30 AM

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The victim stood at the back of the crowded Johnson County courtroom on Nov. 30 as 20-year-old Evan Pfeifer’s family looked intently at the judge.

Hands clasped together, the determined looks on his family’s faces slowly faded as verdict was read: The former University of Iowa student was guilty of third-degree sexual abuse.

“It’s been hell,” the victim said after the judge read the verdict. “The longest two years of my life.”

Pfeifer was accused of raping a woman on the west side of the Pentacrest in the early morning hours of Oct. 3, 2010. On Nov. 28, the accuser testified about the incident, saying she was walking back to her dorm room when Pfeifer approached and eventually raped her. The Daily Iowan does not publish information that could lead to the identification of victims of sexual assault.

Pfeifer’s mother began sobbing, at times growing louder, as each member of the jury was asked to confirm her or his decision. Slowly, the 12 members, who deliberated for around three hours, affirmed their decision. Pfeifer buried his face in his hands as the jury poll, requested by his attorney Mark Brown, neared its end. Two deputies then asked Pfeifer to put the contents from his pocket — including a wallet and cell phone — on the table before they took him into custody.

“I love you; it’s going to be OK,” Pfeifer’s father told him as he was led away in handcuffs.
“You were a young boy …” Pfeifer’s mother added as he exited the courtroom.

The trial, which started Nov. 27, lasted four days.

Before 6th District Judge Mitchell Turner read the verdict, Johnson County assistant prosecutor Anne Lahey began her summary with the idea of reasonable doubt. Lahey first wrote “reasonable” in red ink on her large easel pad.

“[Reasonable doubt] is not 100-percent. It’s not a utopian standard,” she said, before shifting her focus to the facts and timeline of the case.

Lahey presented her chronology, starting when the victim began to leave a party with her friends at 2:23 a.m. and concluding with Pfeifer entering Rienow, where he lived, at 3:44 a.m. Following the timeline, Lahey went through each of the facts of the case, concluding by emphasizing the lack of consent on the night in question.

“There is absolutely no evidence in this case of any consent,” she said. “The only evidence is of a stranger assailant in the night.”

Brown focused most of his closing arguments on the witnesses’ accounts of the woman’s emotions after the incident. He specifically targeted the wording of those testimonies, which included descriptions of the victim with phrases like, “She looked like she had been hit by a bus.”

“These are those catch words that invoke, for obvious reasons, sympathy — sympathy and emotion, which you can understand, but set those words aside for a moment,” Brown said.

Brown continued to ask the jury about unanswered questions in the case, like the lack of injuries on the victim, lack of contact with friends, and finally the possibility of consent.  He then ended his closing argument by asking the jury to focus on what he felt was the “irony” of the case or the lack of focus given to Pfeifer’s emotions.

“Can you imagine person a being accused of something you did not do?” he asked. “But yet all the focus and attention is on [the victim], the drama.”

Lahey then shot back at Brown in her rebuttal.

“Rebuttal starts with ‘re,’ and so does reality,” she said before criticizing Brown’s focus on the location of the assault. “If you absolutely want to believe a sexual assault could not ever happen on the Pentacrest, then find him not guilty. I bet [the victim] felt, too, that it could never happen either until she learned it firsthand.”

The victim silently left the courtroom after Pfeifer’s family reacted to the ruling. She sat with her sister and mother through the day’s closing arguments.  Leaving the courthouse, tears started to form when asked about the jury’s findings.

“Of course, they made the right decision,” she said.

Turner said Pfeifer will be forced to register as a convicted sex offender, and could face up to ten years in prison. His sentencing is scheduled for 9 a.m.


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