Teen paints harrowing picture of relative’s alleged abuse in Roaring Fork Valley
Rifle man facing 168 counts for allegations over two years
A Pitkin County district judge Monday bound over a Rifle man for trial to face 168 criminal charges linked to his alleged physical, psychological and sexual abuse of a relative over a period of two years, including one incident where he purportedly tried to shove her off a cliff on Aspen Mountain.
Defendant Frank Seme, 44, out on a $250,000 surety bond, attended in Aspen the preliminary hearing that included brief remarks from the alleged victim, who was subpoenaed to testify by public defender Scott Troxell. Also shown during the hearing was video footage of a police detective’s interview with the girl, who said she was physically and sexually abused and traumatized by her relative starting when she was 16 years old. The physical abuse began in September 2018 and the sexual abuse in February 2019, the girl told the detective.
“If it wasn’t sexual abuse, it was physical abuse and verbal abuse,” the alleged victim told the Rifle Police Sgt. Carlos Cornejo in the interview, which was conducted Oct. 28. Nearly three hours of the interview was shown during the preliminary hearing.
Judge Chris Seldin’s ruling allows the prosecution to carry forward 53 felony counts of sexual assault against Seme, 30 felony counts of sexual assault on a child by a person in a position of trust constituting a pattern of abuse, 83 felony counts of aggravated incest, one count of second-degree assault and one misdemeanor count of third-degree assault.
Convictions on all charges could lead to multiple life sentences in prison for Seme. The sexual assault charges are punishable by 2 to 6 years to life in prison; the incest counts carry 4 to 12 years to life in prison; and each count of sexual assault on a child by a person in a position of trust constituting a pattern of abuse is punishable by 10 to 32 years to life in prison.
Seldin noted his decision was largely based on the video of the girl’s interview with the Rifle police sergeant, as well as her documenting each alleged sexual encounter — including multiple instances of intercourse — on her health app’s calendar.
“We have non-hearsay testimony to support the charge in each count,” Judge Seldin said.
According to the alleged victim’s statement to police, she moved from her home in Nebraska to her relative’s Old Snowmass-area home in June 2018, and began her junior year at a high school in the Roaring Fork Valley that fall. In September just before her 17th birthday, Seme became mad at her and beat her with a hairbrush. He was intoxicated then and normally would drink 12 beers a day, she said.
The sexual abuse began in the following February and became progressively worse.
“It’s been going on since I was 17 and we lived in Snowmass,” she told Cornejo.
The alleged victim said she couldn’t break away from her relative because she felt helpless. She also told Rifle police that before her interview with them, she spent 25 minutes outside the department before she could gather herself to tell her story.
“I feel stupid for letting this go on that long … and I feel guilty for never fighting back,” she said.
The girl recalled an episode in July 2019, one day before she was scheduled to take her senior pictures, when the relative took her four-wheeling up the backside of Aspen Mountain. At one point the vehicle stopped, and he wrapped a seat belt around her neck in an attempt to rape her but she was able to break free, she told Rifle police.
“We were in the middle of nowhere,” she said. “I didn’t have a cellphone; I didn’t have anything.”
Seme later tried to push her off a cliff but did not succeed, she said.
“He dislocated his shoulder and screamed at me and said it was my fault,” she told police.
The following October the two went to a show at Belly Up Aspen, and on the way back, while the girl was driving them home, Seme demanded she stop the car and have sex with him, she said. He also was drunk at the time, she told authorities.
She resisted then and he struck her, and when they returned home she became sick before he sexually assaulted her, she said.
“The threats and fear, what she felt, were the means and consequences that allowed [Seme] to continue the abuse,” Nottingham said during closing statements.
After her relative kicked her out of his home in October, the victim reported the crimes to police in Rifle, where Seme was living then. Cornejo later notified Pitkin County authorities about the crimes the girl reported that occurred in Pitkin County.
Seme is out on $250,000 surety bond after authorities arrested him in December. He is due back court in June 6 for an arraignment hearing.
Monday’s hearing was held in a makeshift courtroom downstairs at the old Aspen City Hall building, while renovations continue at Pitkin County Courthouse on Main Street.
A district court judge Thursday dismissed the remaining criminal counts against the owner of a Basalt-based chiropractor office who had been under grand-jury indictment for allegedly cooperating with one of his massage therapists accused of sexually assaulting clients.