Aspen yoga case defendant to testify
September 14, 2010
ASPEN – A former yoga instructor standing jury trial in Pitkin County Court on misdemeanor charges that he improperly touched two students is expected to testify Tuesday.
Steven Jon Roger, 49, has not spoken publicly about the allegations since he was arrested in January 2009. But he will likely be the final witness for the defense before a six-member jury begins deliberations after listening to testimony that began Thursday.
Roger is accused of touching the genitals of two female students at the O2 Aspen yoga studio – once on April 12, 2008, the other a month later. He has denied any wrongdoing. If convicted, he faces up to 18 months in jail and would have to register on the state’s sex offender list.
On Monday, approximately 14 of Roger’s former students, mostly female – some fairly new to yoga, others with decades of experience – testified that he never improperly touched them.
Instead, they said Roger, an O2 instructor for about 2 1/2 years, was a popular teacher whose classes were usually at capacity – sometimes with as many as 30 students.
“People were incredibly grateful and appreciative of his class; it was always full,” said Christine Interlante, who practiced yoga with Roger while he was at 02. “He brought expertise and energy to his classes that nobody was bringing at that point.”
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Others echoed that sentiment, some saying he was the best yoga teacher they ever had. Most students said they kept a keen eye on Roger during class, especially when he made “adjustments” to students in particular poses. They told the jury that not once had they noticed Roger have unusual contact with other students.
Last week, the two alleged victims testified Roger slipped his hand down their pants and touched their genitalia while they were in certain yoga positions – one was in the downward-facing dog pose, the other in the child’s pose. Both are fairly common yoga positions.
On Monday, jurors were given demonstrations of the two yoga positions to get a better understanding of the craft.
Also testifying was Roger’s wife, Julie, a certified yoga instructor as well.
“Was he a womanizer?” Roger’s attorney, Tamas Viski-Hanka of Denver, asked her.
“Never,” she said.
Julie Roger said she and her husband have had an “open and trusting” relationship over the years. They wedded in June 2007.
Meanwhile, Prosecutor Richard Nedlin suggested that the defense’s claim that the two accusers weren’t even in class the day the incidents allegedly occurred was off base. When 02 Aspen manager Julie Vernier testified, she displayed records of yoga classes that indicated that the two alleged victims were not there on the days in question.
Nedlin, however, insinuated that the names could have been possibly removed after the fact.