More witnesses in yoga trial claim improper touching
September 11, 2010
ASPEN – The second day of testimony in the yoga touching trial of Steven Jon Roger included statements from three women who claimed he made improper advances toward them in open class.
One student, an alleged victim, said he slipped his hand down her pants and touched her genitalia. The six-member, two alternate jury also heard from two students who alleged he brushed his hand across their breasts during open yoga sessions. Those two students are not alleged victims in the case; instead, the prosecution called them to testify in an effort to show that Roger had demonstrated a pattern of preying on his students.
Roger, 49, who taught at O2 Aspen yoga studio for 2 1/2 years, is standing trial in Pitkin County Court for two counts of misdemeanor unlawful sexual conduct. Prosecutors allege that Roger – once on April 12, 2008, and once on May 12, 2008 – inappropriately touched separate yoga students during class by slipping his hand down their pants and touching their genitalia and anus. If convicted, he must register on the sex offender list and faces up to 18 months in jail.
The victim who testified yesterday claimed that Roger, in the April incident, slipped his hand down her yoga pants – in a class with some 18 to 20 people – and touched her anus for several seconds.
“He leaned in close and said, ‘Is this OK?'” she told the jury.
She continued: “I was paralyzed. I had no idea what to say.”
The alleged victim said she continued to stay in the class until it ended.
“As I recall I just stuck with it,” she said. “I did not want to make a scene or draw any attention to myself.”
After the class, Roger gave her a business card and asked her if she wanted a free, private lesson, she testified.
“He said he felt we had a connection and wanted to nurture that through practice,” she testified, adding that she declined to take private lessons, and stopped taking yoga at O2 as well. She noted that Roger had made subtle advances to her in previous classes, making her feel uncomfortable albeit flattered.
Often times the accuser broke up and paused to regain her composure. She said she reported the incident to police only after she read about his arrest in the local newspapers. Roger was arrested in January 2009, originally on felony sexual assault charges, which were later dropped.
Roger’s defense attorney, Tamas Viski-Hanka, questioned the veracity of the alleged victim’s claim. He suggested that she had trumped up her allegations.
“You’re telling the jury it was your anus – and not your crack [that Roger allegedly touched] – in order to impress the jury?” he said.
“I’m not here to impress anyone,” she replied.
The defense has maintained that Roger never improperly touched any of his yoga students. Roger is expected to testify next week when the trial continues. It’s expected to conclude by Tuesday or Wednesday.
Richard Nedlin is the lead prosecutor in the trial, which is being presided over by Judge Erin Fernandez-Ely.