Rape case against Texas man moves forward | AspenTimes.com

Rape case against Texas man moves forward

A 40-year-old Texas man will stand trial for allegedly raping a 65-year-old Aspen hotel employee in spring, a District Court judge ruled Friday evening.

Judge Gail Nichols listened to more than 41/2 hours of testimony and argument in a preliminary hearing Friday afternoon before finding that probable cause exists to bind Peter Watkins over on a charge of sexual assault.

"(The victim) was very clear more than once that she told him to stop," Nichols said.

Watkins denies the assault and says the sex was consensual.

The alleged assault occurred March 7 at an Aspen hotel where the woman lives and works. The alleged victim reported the incident to Aspen police two days later.

In court Friday, Deputy District Attorney Anne Norrdin played a videotaped interview of the woman telling Aspen Police Detective Rick Magnuson what happened that night. The interview was the second time the woman told her story that day, though the first time was not videotaped, Magnuson testified.

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Magnuson said the alleged victim was far more emotional the first time, though she starts the second interview by wiping away tears. She said she first met Watkins and his wife when they stayed at the hotel where she works for two months during the offseason before last winter.

The couple was having marital troubles, and the woman said she "tried to help them like a mom." She said she specifically tried to help Watkins because he was depressed.

The night of the assault, the woman said she had two glasses of wine before Watkins texted her saying he was suicidal and asking to come up to her room. He came up and they had a glass of wine together, and the woman said she told Watkins she was concerned about him.

At some point, he texted his wife and said he wanted to have sex with the alleged victim, the woman said in her videotaped interview. When the wife didn't respond, Watkins said he thought that meant she was giving her consent, the alleged victim said.

The woman said he then pushed her onto her back on the bed, held her down and took off her clothes.

"I remember saying, 'Don't do this. Pete, don't do this,'" the woman said in the interview.

Watkins, however, raped her anyway and then left, she said.

Later in the video, Magnuson and another officer convinced the woman to text Watkins and ask him why he did "it." When he texts her back, the woman begins crying uncontrollably and is clearly very upset, according to the video.

Beth Krulewitch, Watkins' attorney, spent more than two hours cross-examining Magnuson and attempting to undermine the victim's credibility.

During that examination, Magnuson admitted that Watkins' phone records contained no text message to the alleged victim saying he was suicidal and wanted to come up to her room on the night in question. Magnuson said he asked the woman about that, and she said she made a mistake and that Watkins called her instead. Magnuson said he found a phone call from Watkins in the phone records indicating a brief call was made to the woman at 8:16 p.m. that night.

Krulewitch also focused on text messages the woman sent Watkins earlier in the night before the alleged assault, saying she wanted to bring him beer. The woman never told police about those texts, Krulewitch said.

Krulewitch also questioned why the woman didn't immediately jump up and declare she wasn't going to have sex with Watkins after he first texted his wife seeking permission to do so. She suggested that the woman had consensual sex with Watkins — another woman's husband — then when the wife confronted her by text message the next day, she made up the rape story.

Krulewitch also took issue with the results of an exam done by a nurse trained to look for evidence of a sexual assault, saying the light bruising and vaginal redness found could have been the result of consensual sex.

However, Nichols said the injuries were consistent with someone lying on top of the alleged victim.

"It's not strong, but there is some corroboration," Nichols said

Also, Nichols said the woman is believable in her videotaped interview.

"She just appears credible," the judge said. "Is it beyond a reasonable doubt? I don't know about that."

Nichols said the "most corroborative" part of the woman's story "is that she came forward."

"Coming forward takes courage," the judge said.

If convicted of sexual assault, Watkins could face a maximum sentence of life in prison. He is currently out on bond and living in Aspen.

jauslander@aspentimes.com