Aspen yoga instructor sentenced to jail and probation
ASPEN – A county judge Friday sentenced Steven Jon Roger, convicted for improperly touching two Aspen yoga students, to 60 days in jail and four years of probation that includes nearly 30 restrictions.
However, Judge Erin Fernandez-Ely granted Roger a 30-day stay of execution based on his attorney’s intention to appeal the two guilty verdicts issued in September by a Pitkin County jury of six.
Roger, 49, said nothing during the sentencing hearing, but his attorney, Tamas Viski-Hanka of Denver, asked for no jail time, saying it’s a “walk in the park” compared to the lifetime on the sex offender registry he faces. Viski-Hanka lobbied for home confinement, in which Roger would have to wear ankle bracelets so that authorities could monitor his every move.
“He’s nearly 50 years old, and this is the first time he’s been convicted of a crime,” he said.
But like she noted in the first segment of the sentencing hearing on Nov. 2, Fernandez-Ely said Roger needed some time behind bars to think about what he did.
His two 60-day jail sentences – one for each misdemeanor conviction of sexual contact, no consent – would run concurrently. He also was given two, concurrent four-year probation terms for each conviction.
Additionally, he was fined $5,000 for each conviction – for a total of $10,000 – and ordered to perform 120 hours of public service.
As part of a state mandate for sex offenders, 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.
Roger left his job as a yoga instructor at 02 Aspen studio in January 2009 after he was arrested on allegations that he had touched the genitals of at least two students during class.
His arrest, which came as a shock to many in Aspen’s yoga community, led to two felony counts of sexual assault in April 2009. A senior judge, however, later dismissed the felony counts on the grounds that intrusion did not occur. Prosecutor Richard Nedlin then filed six misdemeanor counts against Roger, eventually dismissing four of them.
With two charges remaining, the case went to trial in September, during which time Roger denied having any improper contacts with his students. His testimony ran counter to the victims’ versions of events they described to the jury: One victim said Roger touched her vagina while he was adjusting her during a yoga position called the child’s pose in a yoga class in April 2008; the second accuser said he touched her anus when she was in the downward-facing dog pose in May 2008.
“I’ve never reached into anybody’s pants in my life teaching yoga,” Roger said at the time.
He also testified that he was sensually detached from his students, and that physically touching them during adjustments “meant nothing to me, only in the sense that they were taught safely and taught properly.”
However, Fernandez-Ely noted Nov. 2 that she found the victims’ testimony to be credible, and that she felt Roger was living in denial. Yesterday, she said Roger’s behavior was “embarrassing and humiliating [to the victims], and it’s disguised to be so.” She added that “humility seems to be lacking” on Roger’s part.
The judge also instructed Roger to write letters of apology to both victims, but Viski-Hanka argued that Roger is protected by the Fifth Amendment.
“The implication is that if he’s not making an apology, then he’s in denial,” Viski-Hanka said.
Roger has 90 days to write the apology letters, but they might be put on hold because of the pending appeal.
Based on the pre-sentence investigation report, Fernandez-Ely said Roger is not considered a sexually violent predator or a threat to society.
Roger’s wife testified on his behalf in the September trial. The couple left Aspen after the charges surfaced.
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