Stage set for yoga instructor sex trial in Aspen
Ryan Summerlin February 2, 2010
ASPEN – The attorney for an Aspen yoga instructor accused of having unlawful sexual contact with two of his clients refused to cut a deal Tuesday with prosecutors because the suspect faces a lifetime on the state’s sex offender registry.
Steven Jon Roger, 48, appeared in Pitkin County Court, where prosecutor Richard Nedlin announced that four sexual contact without consent charges, all misdemeanors, have been dropped.
However, Roger is scheduled to go to a jury trial in March for two other misdemeanor sexual contact charges, of which prosecutors say the yoga teacher made direct, physical contact with the private areas of two students at the yoga studio O2 Aspen.
While Judge Erin Fernandez-Ely suggested that Roger and the district attorney’s office try to reach a deferred judgment, defense attorney Tamas Viski-Hanka said that scenario was unacceptable because of the resulting consequences.
“If both counts will be lost for the defendant, or if the defendant pleads to a deferred judgment … the [sex offender] registry would be for a lifetime, and the court would have no jurisdiction to rule otherwise,” Viski-Hanka said.
Roger’s trial is set for March 2, but Viski-Hanka has filed a motion seeking to try both charges separately. Prosecutors say Roger had unlawful sexual contact with one student on March 12, 2008; the other incident allegedly occurred a month later on April 12, 2008.
“The alleged acts occurred in the same place – O2 studio – with exactly the same circumstances … with the same yoga position,” Nedlin said.
Both Nedlin and Viski-Hanka shed some light on their legal positions as far as the case is concerned. At issue will be whether Roger’s clients consented to his alleged touching.
“Yoga is such that bodily contact with breasts and buttocks happens,” Viski-Hanka told the judge. “That’s the industry standard.”
Nedlin, however, said Viski-Hanka’s argument did not apply to the charges on which he will be tried.
“The two counts here are feeling under the clothes of private parts,” Nedlin said. “There’s no mistaking that. There’s no industry standard for that.”
Nedlin will be tasked with proving to a jury that Roger, without consent, intentionally touched intimate parts (either the breast, genitalia or anus, as defined by Colorado law) of his clients for the purpose of sexual arousal, gratification or abuse.
“It becomes relevant whether there was arousal or not, or whether there was abuse,” Fernandez-Ely said. “I expect that to be an issue here.”
Roger was originally charged in April with two felony charges of sexual assault. But those counts were dismissed in May by Senior District Judge James Edwin Rutland, who ruled there was insufficient evidence for Roger to face the charges. The judge found that intrusion did not occur.
“More than a touching is required … to establish an intrusion” in violation of state law, the judge wrote.
After Tuesday’s hearing, Nedlin said he dropped four of the misdemeanor charges because the alleged victims were either out of the country or did not want to pursue the matter further.