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January 28, 2008

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Upon Eric Frimpong’s shocking guilty verdict from an all white Santa Barbara jury, he was immediately handcuffed and whisked away, tears streaming down his face.   Stunned supporters, including a San Diego family that has helped with the majority of his legal defense to date since his family has no financial means, faced a courtroom full of smirking D.A.’s and Sherriff’s, as the verdict was read.  Eric was immediately taken to jail, where the sheriffs have failed to process him and at least his first few nights in jail, he has remained in his suit, and forced to sleep on the concrete floor as there was no bed available.

Eric Frimpong grew up in a village in the West African country of Ghana.  He lived with his mother, who supported her four children with $60 a month, in a mud hut with no plumbing.   He carried water jugs down dirt streets, barefoot, dribbling his soccer ball.

His skills with the soccer ball gave him a path to what should have been a better life.  He played for the University of Ghana.  His dream came true when he was recruited by an American university – the University of California at Santa Barbara to play for the men’s soccer team.

Eric had to adapt to a whole new way of life, from the language, to the food and customs.  He embraced his new home whole-heartedly, and enjoyed a diverse group of friends, black, white and Latino.  While playing soccer, he pursued a challenging degree in math with a minor in finance.  His hope was to one day take back his skills to help his tribe in Ghana.

In December 2006, Eric was an important part of the UCSB men’s soccer team that won the NCAA national championship.  The soccer players were the toast of the town.  Eric was talking to MLS teams about his professional career.  He was then drafted in the third round of the 2007 MLS supplemental draft by the Kansas City Wizards.

On one night in February 2007, everything changed.   Eric’s American dream became a nightmare.

On a typical Friday night in the college town of Isla Vista, as fate would have it, Eric met a girl.  They were both on the street outside of a party.   She approached him, and Eric, being his usual friendly self, started chatting with her, revealing his name, his age, that he was a UCSB student, and that he was a soccer player.  He invited her to his house down the street to play a college party game, “beer pong”.  Little did he know, according to the girl’s later testimony, that she had already consumed at least ten alcoholic beverages.

The girl accompanied Eric down the street.  A casual sexual partner of hers, Benjamin Randall, passed them on the street and called her on her cell phone.  He was a “little upset”, according to his later testimony, about seeing her arm in arm with Eric.

At Eric’s house, he introduced the girl to his roommates, and then the two of them proceeded to play beer pong.  When the girl wanted to smoke, Eric asked her to go outside to a park next door.

At the park, there was some kissing.  Eric was repulsed over her tongue ring and the smell of smoke on her, and said that he wasn’t interested in her.  Suddenly, she became angry, yelling at him not to judge her and put her hand down his pants, squeezing tightly.

Disturbed, Eric pushed her away, told her to leave and proceeded himself to walk by himself to a female friend’s house, and later that evening to his girlfriend’s house where he slept.

The next morning, Eric was playing ping pong in the same park next door to his house with some friends.   A detective with the Sheriff’s department, Detective Kies, approached him and asked if he would come with him for some questioning.  The friends, showing obvious concern, asked if he should have an attorney.  The detective, in a reassuring tone, said, no, this would just be a simple questioning, and that he would be coming of his own free will.

Eric went with Detective Kies in good faith.  An audio was played during the trial of their conversation.   Kies asked him what he had done the night before.  Eric answered in a calm, conversational manner – with his thick accent.   He didn’t try to hide anything.  When he was asked to allow detectives to search his home and retrieve his clothing from the night before, he asked what this was all about.   He was told that the girl he had met claimed that he took her down to the beach and raped her.  Soon thereafter he was arrested.

Headline news was all about the UCSB national champion soccer player arrested for rape.  From day one, he was portrayed as guilty.

When the DNA came back negative – not only was there no sign of Eric on the victim anywhere, but sperm was found in her underwear from another man.   At this point, the victim told the D.A. about Benjamin Randall.  His DNA matched the sperm found in her underwear the night of the alleged rape.

The victim said she had last had sex with Randall three days before.  He testified it was a week before.  Both testified that he had worn a condom.  There has never been any explanation offered as to how his sperm was in her underwear the night of the attack.

Not only was Benjamin Randall never pursued as a suspect, but the D.A.’s office decided the negative results for Frimpong weren’t good enough.  They requested further testing.   After documented mishandling of evidence, including mislabeled evidence, chain of custody reports changed months later, and evidence left on the floor, one “nucleated cell” of the victim was found on each swab from Frimpong – one from his penis, and one from his scrotum.  The D.A.’s office used this evidence to pursue the case.

The victim’s story of the attack changed with each telling.  She insisted she was hit in the face, and indeed had a large mark.  Detective Kies suggested that it was a bite mark.  Only on the witness stand ten months later did the victim describe being bitten.   She admitted to not remembering much after the beer pong game, but suddenly being attacked on the beach.  She admitted to blacking out at certain points, and in fact to blacking out five to ten times in the past.

As the D.A. continued their unrelenting quest to prove Eric Frimpong’s guilt in this “high profile case”, as they called it, another “victim” came forward alleging that Eric had sexually assaulted her back in January – that he had tackled her on the beach while exercising together.  Even in light of a Facebook entry where the “victim” said she was going to “be such a bitch” to Eric, the D.A. jumped on this to show a pattern of predatory behavior.  They charged him with sexual assault.   Ironically on this charge, Eric was found not guilty, but the damage was done.

This case should never have gone to trial.  In light of the recent Duke Lacrosse case, the parallels were too strong – a girl’s unreliable word taken at the expense of a prominent student-athlete.

Four motions for a mistrial were made and denied by Judge Hill during the trial which lasted three weeks.

Besides evidence of the mishandling of evidence, there was the shocking and blatant suppression of evidence.    Before a dental expert, Dr. Sperber, was to testify for the prosecution that Eric Frimpong could not be ruled out as the attacker, it was discovered by the defense that in fact the prosecution had sought a prior opinion from another dentist.  This dentist said that the bite marks were too vague and could in no way implicate the defendant.  This was not disclosed to the defense.  In addition, Detective Kies lied on the stand about it.  He only “remembered” this prior dentist after the defense lawyer’s investigator discovered this fact on the day of testimony and confronted him with it..   He and an upper level D.A. suggested that they didn’t go with the first dentist’s opinion, not because of his report, but because it was a money issue.  They said the second dentist, Dr. Sperber, was working for free.

Once Dr. Sperber’s testimony was allowed, he admitted that he always charges and of course the prosecution was paying him.  He then proceeded to try and sway the jury that the bite marks could have been made by Eric Frimpong and not by Benjamin Randall.  Upon cross examination he admitted that the evidence is inconclusive.

With so many glaring holes and prosecutorial errors and possible misconduct, the defense confidently and with good reason, rested of the facts of the case with only one witness.  This witness, A  Department of Justice employee, testified that the victim’s blood alcohol level was .20 the following morning, and estimated that it would have been near or over a  .30 at the time of the alleged attack.

During closing arguments, the prosecutor made a comment alluding to the fact that the defendant had no alibi and didn’t take the stand.  This was when the defense made another one of the motions for a mistrial.

Throughout this ordeal, Eric had an unwavering belief in the American judicial system and his utmost faith in God.  He believed the truth would set him free.  Unfortunately, the D.A.’s office wanted to win a conviction at any cost, with no mind to truth or justice.

On Monday, December 17, 2007 the jury deliberated.  They asked to hear two audio tapes and several transcripts from the trial.  After lunch, Judge Brian Hill advised them that if they continued to listen to the requested evidence, they would be there at least three more days.  He suggested they go back in the jury room and talk some more.

The judge, and at least one of the jurors, had holiday travel plans the following day.

It was also debated during deliberations as to what to do about one of the jury members getting a DUI two days prior.   The judge allowed her to continue deliberating.

The jury came out of the room a short time later with a verdict.  Eric Frimpong, guilty of the rape charge.

Now a convicted rapist, Eric Frimpong has no rights.  His supporters couldn’t speak to him, or wipe the tears from his face as he left the courtroom.  His attempts at phone calls from jail are continuously disconnected.   He cannot have his beloved Bible and book of daily devotions in the jail.

He is a young man from Africa, alone, half a world away from home.

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