Monday, March 10, 2008
Frimpong sentenced to six years in state prison
BY COLBY FRAZIER
DAILY SOUND STAFF WRITER
With his back turned to a courtroom packed with his supporters, convicted rapist Eric Frimpong moved very little yesterday when a Superior Court judge sentenced him to six years in state prison.
The sentence was handed down by Judge Brian Hill 13 months after a 19-year-old female UC Santa Barbara student told police she was brutally raped by Frimpong on an Isla Vista beach.
Frimpong, a 22-year-old native of Ghana and a former UCSB men’s soccer player, received a six-year sentence despite a recommendation from the County Probation Department for the maximum sentence of eight years.
Deputy District Attorney Mary Barron, the prosecutor in the case, said she was pleased with the length of the sentence.
“We felt it was a fair sentence,” she said. “Six years was an appropriate sentence given all the facts in the case.”
Robert Sanger, Frimpong’s defense attorney, would only say that he filed a notice to appeal with the court.
Barron said the victim, who was present in court yesterday, was content with the outcome.
“She’s very relieved and looking forward to this aspect of the case being put behind her,” Barron said.
Joan Fairfield, a victim advocate with the District Attorney’s Office, read a statement from the victim, in which she described the difficulty of taking the stand during the December 2007 trial and facing the man that raped her.
“I will never be the woman I was before I was raped,” the statement said. “Eric Frimpong ruined my life.”
In what appeared to be a response to Frimpong’s supporters, some of whom have charged over the past couple of months that the jury’s verdict was wrong, the victim wrote: “I know what happened to me. I was there and they weren’t.
“He broke the law and he ruined my life and he should be punished accordingly.”
The victim’s father said he was glad this process was nearly over and that the nightmares his daughter has endured can begin to end.
He commended the members of the jury and public who, “Actually bothered to listen to the evidence before making up their minds, which is a lot more than I can say for other parts of the community, especially the media.”
When Frimpong entered the Department 2 courtroom in jail issued clothing, a number of his former teammates and supporters rose to their feet.
Lonni Monahan, whose son lived with Frimpong while the two attended UCSB, and has attended nearly every court hearing, offered a harsh critique of Hill’s handling of the case and insisted that Frimpong is innocent.
“He [Hill] absolutely ran this trial for the DA,” Monahan said. “There wasn’t a chance that Eric could have gotten a fair trial. We’re going to move on. We all believe he’s innocent. We’re not giving up. This is a bump in the road.”
A prepared statement from Frimpong’s supporters called him a “gentle, honest and trusting young man who has never been in any trouble or demonstrated any disrespect toward any woman…”
The statement says Hill “mishandled” the case and accuses the judge of not safeguarding Frimpong’s right to a fair trial.
“We will continue to fight for Eric,” the statement said. “We will not rest until he is exonerated and the ugly truth of his wrongful prosecution and conviction comes out.”
A Santa Barbara County jury found Frimpong guilty of rape on Dec. 17, 2007, but Sanger filed a motion requesting a new trial shortly thereafter.
As part of that motion, Hill granted an evidentiary hearing, which lasted four days and included the testimony of three forensic dentists who analyzed a bite mark left on the victim’s face.
But the testimony didn’t convince Hill that there was a legal basis to order a new trial and he denied the motion.
In the Probation Department’s report, three aggravating factors were cited as the basis for the recommendation of the maximum sentence.
Hill read through them all and noted that only the first, which said there was a high level of cruelty, viciousness and callousness shown by Frimpong during the attack, was proven by the evidence presented during trial.
Hill said he did not agree that the second factor, which said the victim was taken advantage of while she was particularly vulnerable. He noted that during the trial, evidence was presented that showed the victim voluntarily went to the beach with Frimpong.
The third factor stated that there was a level of planning and sophistication to the attack. Hill said there was no evidence of this presented during the trial either.
“This is kind of a primitive act,” Hill said. “It’s a violent act, but it doesn’t seem to me to involve a lot of planning and sophistication.”
Sanger said Frimpong intended to make a statement, but at his attorney’s request, did not.
Hill said Frimpong’s good standing in the community and blank criminal record up until the time of the rape “mitigated” the one aggravating factor and therefore justified the six-year sentence.
Before announcing the sentence, Hill addressed the nature of rape cases, saying next to murder; they’re the most serious dealt with by the court.
“The physical and emotional injury [of rape] often lasts a lifetime,” he said. “That’s the reality.”
Hill also noted that he felt the jury’s decision was the correct one.
“I’m convinced beyond any doubt that the jury reached the right decision,” he said.
When asked about some of the criticism Hill and the District Attorney’s Office has received as a result of the case, Barron said the evidence spoke for itself.
“We always felt the evidence in this case was very strong and the jury took the time to consider it and came to the right conclusions,” she said. “If you were in court and you listened to that evidence, you can understand why the jury came to the conclusion that they did.”