Yoga Instructor Found Guilty of Sexual Assault
This is so crazy – without ever being able to know what ‘really’ happened, I think we can all agree that this is a serious reminder to err on the side of caution!
From the Aspen Daily News:
Convicted of unlawful sexual contact on two students; must register as sex offender
A jury of four men and two women convicted former yoga instructor Steven Roger on Tuesday night of forcing his hand down the pants of two female students during classes at the O2 Aspen yoga studio in 2008.
Roger, 49, must now register as a sex offender and faces a possible 18 months of jail time for each count of misdemeanor unlawful sexual contact. He will be sentenced on Oct. 26.
The jury deliberated for about four hours at the conclusion of four days of testimony, argument and courtroom yoga demonstrations.
Roger sat emotionlessly and stared straight ahead as Judge Erin Fernandez-Ely read the guilty verdicts. His wife and other supporters sat in the gallery behind the defendant’s table.
Roger took the stand in his defense Tuesday morning, and repeatedly denied the allegations against him during three hours of questioning.
“I have never reached into anybody’s pants, ever, teaching yoga,” he testified.
Both of Roger’s victims testified against him last week, one claiming he touched her vagina and anus under her clothes while she was in the “downward-facing dog” pose at a group class at O2 in May 2008. The second woman said he touched her anus while instructing her in “child’s pose” in April of that year.
Neither woman screamed or otherwise reacted during the incidents. A psychologist for the prosecution told jurors it is common for victims of sex crimes to “freeze up” under such circumstances. More than a dozen of Roger’s former students, who attended classes alongside the victims, said they did not witness anything untoward.
One of the victims claimed she confronted Roger after the class in question, and told him “that was so inappropriate.” Roger denied that any such exchange took place.
Two other students testified that Roger cupped their breasts during classes, for which he faced no criminal allegations.
In what broke down to a “he said-she said” case with no physical or DNA evidence of the crimes or eyewitnesses, prosecutor Richard Nedlin asked jurors to scrutinize the circumstantial evidence presented and to judge whether they believed Roger’s earnest denials or the emotional testimony by his victims.
In his closing statement, Nedlin reminded the jury of one victim’s demeanor on the stand: “You saw her break down, you saw her shake … Remember the story of what happened to her and how it affected her.”
Nedlin closed by attacking Roger’s credibility and pointing out discrepancies between his court testimony and what he had earlier told police, including a courtroom admission that he may have occasionally made “incidental contact” with students’ breasts while adjusting their yoga poses.
Nedlin also reiterated the assertion that just 2 to 8 percent of reported sex crimes are based on false accusations.
Roger’s defense attorney, Tamas Viski-Hanka of Denver, implored the jury to ignore that claim. He reminded them that there was no medical examination of the victims, and no physical evidence, saying, “It’s much more convenient to bring in statistics.”
He reminded jurors that Roger had private yoga lessons with both of his accusers, where there were no witnesses if he had wanted to molest them. Viski-Hanka argued it did not make sense for Roger to prey on the women in classes beside as many as 30 other students.
“You would have to have a death wish to do that because you would get caught,” he argued. “Why would he throw his life away?”
Nedlin countered that Roger’s crimes were the pre-meditated acts of a “skillful perpetrator.” In both cases, Roger gave the women his business card and invited them to take private lessons with him and then, in later group classes, placed them in the back of the O2 studio. Once they were in vulnerable yoga poses there, Nedlin argued, Roger adjusted their positions and then put his hand in their pants.
Roger told the jury he discovered yoga in the mid 1990s as a physical and spiritual outlet, while he was tending to his dying father in New York. Having taught an estimated 54,000 students in the years since, Roger said he has never had previous complaints about inappropriate touching.
He has no prior criminal record.
Nedlin argued that Roger may have been getting away with sex crimes throughout his career as an instructor.
“I think it’s 15 years of not getting caught,” he said in his closing arguments. “Fifteen years of people not coming forward … These are the actions of a man who finally picked the wrong victims.”
Roger remained composed through most of his testimony, though he broke down briefly when Viski-Hanka asked him about his arrest in January 2009 and subsequent departure from Aspen and yoga instruction. He said he has been unemployed since he left the community.
His voice cracking, the disgraced yogi said, “I miss my life here.”