Arizona Defendant in Sexual Assault Case Loses on Appeal, Despite Argument that Religious Testimony was Unwarranted During Trial

In a September 2023 case before an Arizona court of appeals, the defendant argued that the lower court made a mistake by allowing the victim to discuss her religious beliefs on the stand. Originally, the defendant was charged with and convicted of sexual assault, kidnapping, sexual abuse, and assault. After a jury found him guilty, the court sentenced the defendant to almost 80 years in prison. The defendant appealed, but the higher court ultimately affirmed the guilty conviction.

Facts of the Case

The defendant’s criminal charges arose from an incident in which he and his girlfriend met a girl at a local gas station. The girl was asking passersby for a ride, so the defendant and his girlfriend agreed to drive her to a friend’s house. As the group drove, they became high and inebriated. They eventually drove back to the defendant’s home.

While there, the defendant and his girlfriend poured the girl a strong alcoholic drink, then proceeded to sexually assault her. They slapped her in the face, hit her in the leg, and then forced the girl to engage in sexual intercourse. The girl escaped as soon as she could, running to a nearby security officer who helped her call the police. The defendant and his girlfriend were charged, and the girlfriend accepted a plea deal. She later testified at the defendant’s trial.

After the defendant’s trial, the court announced a guilty verdict and a sentence of almost 80 years in prison. The defendant promptly appealed.

The Decision

On appeal, the defendant took issue with the lower court’s decision to allow the girl to testify about her religious beliefs during trial. According to him, the religious testimony made the girl seem more credible and likeable to jury members, and the court should not have allowed it into the record.

The higher court reviewed the trial transcript and ultimately disagreed with the defendant. The girl’s testimony, said the court, helped explain that her religious beliefs led her to be overly trusting of strangers. She always tried to see the good in others, which perhaps led her to a naïve belief that she would be safe with the defendant and his girlfriend. Because the testimony helped the jury understand how the incident unfolded, it was reasonable for the court to deem it admissible.

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