Appeal filed in Aspen yoga case; prosecutor to respond next week
ASPEN – The 9th Judicial District Attorney’s Office has until next week to respond to a yoga instructor’s appeal of a jury verdict that a former Aspen yoga instructor improperly touched two of his students.
Filed in district court by Denver lawyer Tamas Viski-Hanka, the appeal contends the judge committed “reversible errors” at last September’s trial in front of a Pitkin County jury, which convicted Steven Jon Roger, 50, a former teacher at Aspen 02 yoga studio on Main Street, of two misdemeanor charges of sexual contact with his students in 2008.
Among Viski-Hanka’s arguments are that Judge Erin Fernandez-Ely allowed irrelevant testimony from a prosecution expert, a psychologist who specializes in trauma and sexual assault, during the trial.
Some conclusions offered as part of that same testimony, given by Dr. Sheri Vanino, were used by prosecutor Richard Nedlin during the trial’s closing arguments and should not have been allowed, Viski-Hanka contends. By doing so, Nedlin committed prosecutorial misconduct, the appeal argues.
Roger also did not get a fair shake at trial because one of the victims originally testified that the yoga instructor touched her anus, the appeal says. But during cross-examination, she said Roger actually touched her crack. The distinguishable difference between the two body parts could have resulted in a not-guilty verdict in one of the counts against Roger, suggests Viski-Hanka, whose appeal asks that the conviction be vacated.
“The crack between one’s buttocks is not included in the intimate parts definition for purposes of unlawful sexual contact,” the appeal says.
Viski-Hanka also contends the judge erred when she would not allow testimony for the defense from an expert regarding his “analysis of [Roger’s] sexual adjustment and risk taking propensities.”
Nedlin declined to comment about the appeal, but said he expects to file a written response to the appeal no later than next week. He has 20 days from the April 26 filing date to respond.
Roger left his job as a yoga instructor at 02 Aspen studio in January 2009 after he was arrested on allegations that he fondled at least two students during class. At trial, Roger, who no longer lives in Aspen, testified that he that he was sensually detached from his students and professed his innocence.
In November, Roger was sentenced 60 days in jail and four years of probation, was fined $10,000 and ordered to perform 120 hours of public service. He also faces a lifetime on the sex offender registry.
Because the appeal is pending, Roger has yet to be required to comply with the sentence. If he loses on appeal, Roger must adhere to the following conditions, among others:
• Register on the sex offender list;
• Commit to genetic marker testing;
• Have no contact with any children under 18;
• Not reside with any children under 18;
• Have no contact with the victims;
• Stay away from school yards, parks, playgrounds, swimming pools, arcades and other places frequented by children under 18;
• Inform probation officer of all “significant relationships”;
• No access, possession, utilization or subscription to any sexually oriented or sexually stimulating material;
• Receive a probation officer’s approval before changing residences;
• Abide by a curfew set by the probation officer;
• No hitchhiking or picking up hitchhikers;
• Attend and participate in sex offender evaluation and treatment program;
• Consumption of alcohol is forbidden without permission from probation officer;
• Possession or use of “any mind-altering or consciousness-altering substance” is forbidden unless it’s a prescription;
• Internet use is forbidden;
• and possession of “tunnel focusing devices,” such as a camera or video camera, is not allowed without a probation officer’s permission.
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User Legend: Moderator Trusted User
With a current backlog of 147 jury trials in the three-county judicial district, and only one felony and one misdemeanor trial allowed at a time, the need for more staffing is imperative said Ninth District Attorney Jeff Cheney.