JUSTICE DENIED: BEHIND THE PATINA OF PARADISE
January 24, 2008
The Story of Eric Frimpong
By: Kim A. Seefeld, January 15, 2008
Billed as the “American Riviera”, Santa Barbara evokes visions of a prosperous, harmonious community with sunny beaches, palm trees and red-tiled roofs. Yet behind the patina of paradise, the reality it appears is quite different.
The recent trial of a young black man named Eric Frimpong, a member of UCSB’s 2006 NCAA championship soccer team, for rape, reveals a startling portrait of bias and injustice.
At the bedrock of our criminal justice system is the presumption of innocence. Every person accused of a crime is presumed innocent until proven guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt”. The rules of procedure in our criminal justice system flow from these basic principles, recognizing that “it is better to set ten guilty men free than to convict one innocent man.
These safeguards failed to protect Eric, even though none of his DNA was found on the accuser; only the semen of her boyfriend. The girl, a 19 year old freshman with a history of alcohol induced blackouts, had a blood alcohol level between .29 and .34. At a .35 you are at anesthesia level where surgery can be performed.
What transpired in this case shocks the conscience; a far different story than prosecutor Mary Barron’s inaccurate descriptions of the case as being based on “overwhelming evidence” and “eye witnesses”.
Eric Frimpong, 22 years old, is from a village in the northern region of Accra, Ghana on the west coast of Africa. A soccer player as a boy, he was “discovered” and recruited by a UCSB soccer coach in Ghana to scout other players.
He arrived at UCSB in August, 2005, with only a small back pack of belongings. He became a starting mid-fielder on Coach Tim Vom Steeg’s 2006 NCCA championship soccer team. He is described as an excellent student, never in any trouble at UCSB or before, devoutly religious; a warm, friendly, gentle soul. Everyone who met Eric came away with admiration and affection for this boy from West Africa.
Eric was drafted by a professional soccer team, the Kansas City Wizard’s and was set to graduate from UCSB with a degree in mathematics. UCSB soccer coach Tim Vom Steeg describes Eric as a wonderful young man who he cannot believe would commit rape.
In February, 2007, lots of kids hanging out in I.V. struck up conversations with Eric and his teammates regarding their victory. One night Eric invited one such fan to his house to play “beer pong” and hang out with his friends. Though Eric and the girl separated, she later accused him of raping her on the beach below Del Playa. However, the evidence does not support her claim.
She alleged a violent attack on the beach that left her covered in sand, yet the first person she saw testified he saw no sand on her.
Eric had no scratches or abrasions on his body or any sand on his black skin and hair.
It was hours before she reported the alleged rape. When examined, she claimed to have been hit on the cheek.
Not surprisingly given her extreme intoxication, she had little memory of what had happened. Sheriff’s Detective Kies repeatedly suggested facts to her, including that she was bitten. He allowed two of her friends who were also drunk to coach her. A swab taken much later of her cheek was negative for any DNA.
Detectives Kies and Sherbuth did nothing to investigate what other males the accuser had contact with that night or when she last had sex with her boyfriend.
The detectives found Eric the next morning, playing ping pong with friends. They requested he go with them without explaining the allegations or his rights. Eric’s friends asked if he needed representation, explaining he was from a foreign country and would not understand what was going on. Detective Kies lied, stating he would explain everything, then took Eric away and grilled him without explaining why. He didn’t explain his rights until Eric, obviously confused, asked what was going on.
Unlike his accuser, none of Eric’s friends were allowed in his interview. Eric politely answered all questions, allowed a search his home and clothes. When they finally told him he was a rape suspect, he denied having sex with the accuser and volunteered a DNA sample.
There was no presumption of innocence. They accepted the impaired accuser’s word. Eric was the only suspect, even after only the boyfriend’s DNA was found on the accuser that night.
After the publicity of Eric’s arrest, another girl surfaced who alleged a past sexual assault. On a mere accusation, the DA charged “sexual assault” and portrayed Eric as a serial sexual predator. While acquitted, he was severely prejudiced by the false claim.
At trial the prosecutor systematically excluded minorities and foreign born citizens from the jury, depriving Eric of a jury of his peers.
The prosecution hid exculpatory evidence by not revealing a dental expert previously consulted. They falsely told the Court the second expert was used because he wasn’t charging a fee when he did charge a fee.
The prosecutor disregarded the presumption of innocence and burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt by referring to Eric as having no alibi.
A juror was arrested for DUI, an alcohol related criminal offense, yet, in a case where alcohol intoxication was a major issue, the juror was not replaced.
The jury asked to review the accuser’s and Eric’s statements. Only the accuser’s was read. Judge Hill then told the jury it would take to long to review everything so they should just review what they had already heard. Eric was convicted two hours later.
Judge Hill revoked Eric’s bail and sent him to jail. Meanwhile the alleged victim has reportedly been observed back on the party scene in I.V.
Unlike the falsely accused student athletes in the infamous Duke rape case, Eric is indigent, without resources to fight in the courtroom or media. The kind parents and soccer team supporters who posted bail and paid for a lawyer are tapped out.
Unless a motion for new trial motion is granted, Eric will be sent to prison.
Will we, as a community, allow this to happen or will we demand that those who administer the law, also abide by the law? If we demand anything less, surely paradise is but an illusion.
(The author is a trial lawyer and former prosecutor with no relationship to any of