Testimony begins in yoga touching case
September 10, 2010
ASPEN – A former yoga student of Steven Jon Roger told a Pitkin County jury Thursday that he touched her inappropriately during an open class, leaving her “scared and embarrassed and shocked and pissed,” while a defense attorney spent nearly 45 minutes trying to discredit her testimony.
The alleged victim’s statements came during the first day of testimony in the trial against Roger, a former O2 Aspen yoga teacher who is charged with two misdemeanor counts of unlawful sexual conduct. Prosecutors allege that Roger – once on April 12, 2008, and once on May 12, 2008, – inappropriately touched separate yoga students during class.
Roger, 49, was originally charged in April 2009 with two felony counts of sexual assault, but a senior judge dismissed the counts on the grounds that intrusion did not occur. Prosecutor Richard Nedlin then filed six misdemeanor counts against Roger, later dismissing four of them.
It will be up to an eight-member jury, comprised of six men and two women, who were selected yesterday after a selection process that began Wednesday. Two of those members are alternates. Judge Erin Fernandez-Ely is presiding over the trial, which is expected to end by the middle of next week.
If Roger is convicted, he would be required to register on the sex offender list.
Meanwhile, with Roger sitting less than 10 feet away from her, the alleged victim testified that she got to know him in 2008, after her husband gave her an O2 punch-pass as a Valentine’s Day gift. The accuser said that on several occasions leading up to the alleged incident, Roger made subtle overtures toward her that made her feel uncomfortable.
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Then, on the day in question in the O2 studio, Roger, while making an “adjustment,” slipped his hand under her yoga wear, brushing his hand across her genitalia and anus, the alleged victim said. He did it while there were some 30 students in the studio, she said.
“I was just kind of shock,” she said. “I froze … My body was just tingling; the only description was, what the hell?”
After the class, the alleged victim said she confronted Roger and told him, “You just crossed a boundary. That was inappropriate.”
Roger, she testified, said he was simply trying to help her with her postures.
The woman said she did not initially want to pursue charges. Her neighbor, who works at the Aspen Police Department, advised her to speak with an investigator. After initially telling police about the alleged incident, no formal report was filed until the following November, the accuser said.
Roger’s defense attorney, Tamas Viski-Hanka of Denver, pressed the alleged victim in a bid to discredit her testimony. Viski-Hanka said the woman returned to 02 Aspen five times after the alleged incident, a sign that she did not feel threatened by Roger.
He also said her testimony that Roger touched her anus marked the first time that allegation had come to light.
“You had three interviews with three officers and you didn’t tell any of them that you were touched on the anus,” Viski-Hanka told her.
He also tried to devalue her previous testimony that Roger offered to give her private yoga sessions in exchange for massages, and said instead they jointly discussed the arrangement. The alleged victim is a massage therapist.
In opening arguments, Viski-Hanka said O2 Aspen records show that neither of Roger’s accusers was enrolled for class the days they said the inappropriate touching occurred. He also maintained that Roger never inappropriately touched either alleged victim.
Viski-Hanka touted Roger as a yoga instructor who had 15 years of teaching experience prior to the charges, including 2 1/2 years at O2 Aspen. Roger has taught approximately 54,000 students and held 1,500 private sessions over the years.
“Were they [the alleged victims] so special that he’d risk his career?” Viski-Hanka asked the jury.
Nedlin, the lead prosecutor, painted Roger has a yoga instructor who treated the studio as “his domain.”
“Mr. Roger’s neighborhood wasn’t a place of joy or happiness,” he told the jury during opening arguments.
The trial is scheduled to continue at 9 a.m. today.