No rape on dates, hoaxer's jury says

It convicted Jeffrey Marsalis, 34, of two counts of sexual assault. Seven women had accused him.

Posted: June 14, 2007

A Philadelphia jury yesterday found Jeffrey Marsalis - accused of drugging and raping seven women, six of whom he met on Match.com - guilty of two counts of sexual assault but acquitted him of a slew of rape charges involving all the accusers.

The jurors failed to reach a verdict on one rape count against Marsalis, who pretended to be a doctor, a CIA agent and an astronaut to persuade women to date him.

Marsalis, 34, faces up to 20 years in prison for the two counts of sexual assault, defined as intercourse without consent. Rape includes aggravating factors such as force.

Marsalis will remain held without bail until sentencing Sept. 18. He also faces a drugging and rape case in Idaho.

Prosecutor Joseph Khan said a federal investigation of Marsalis continued, and urged anyone with information about other possible crimes to contact the FBI at 215-418-4000.

One of the accusers threw up after learning about the verdict and "felt like someone kicked me in the gut," the woman said in an interview.

"I feel like the Goldmans," she said, referring to the family of Ron Goldman, whom O.J. Simpson was found not guilty of murdering.

The jury informed the court that it had reached a verdict after 11/2 hours of deliberation yesterday. It was the fifth day of deliberations, which on Monday had erupted into angry shouting.

Shortly after 1 p.m., the jury foreman was read a list of 35 counts, including 25 rape counts, such as forcible rape, rape of an unconscious person, and rape by substantial impairment.

When the foreman announced the first "not guilty," Marsalis, dressed in an olive-green suit, looked up. After the third "not guilty," he began to blink rapidly. But when the foreman announced the first "guilty" for sexual assault, Marsalis gulped.

One of the accusers gazed down with a sad expression when Marsalis was found not guilty of everything involving her. The woman, a lawyer, later sobbed quietly as the jury's decision was repeated.

One juror, a young man, repeatedly looked at the woman and seemed distressed. The jury was composed of eight women and four men.

Afterward, jurors declined to comment as they rushed from the Criminal Justice Center near City Hall.

The sexual-assault counts involved a New Jersey woman and a woman who lived in Marsalis' Center City apartment building. It wasn't clear why the jurors had determined that those women were sexually assaulted rather than raped, or why they believed those two but not the other women.

In those cases, the circumstances differed wildly. One woman had only one contact - a phone call - with Marsalis after the alleged rape. The second woman befriended Marsalis after an alleged rape, and said he had raped her again several months later - the basis for the sexual-assault conviction.

"This is a 100 percent victory," defense attorney Kathleen Martin said outside the courthouse, answering questions with cocounsel Kevin Hexstall before a media throng.

Martin said the jury had rejected the prosecution's theory that Marsalis was a sexual predator who sought vulnerable woman and then drugged and raped them.

Hexstall said the convictions involved lesser charges that the District Attorney's Office almost always threw into a case if rape charges didn't hold up. "I think he was wrongly convicted, but I respect the jury's decision," Hexstall said.

Martin said Marsalis "was pleased with the jury's hard work."

Khan said the prosecution was "pleased that the jury recognized that Mr. Marsalis is a criminal, a sexual offender."

He praised the seven accusers for "courageously" coming forward to testify.

Each count of sexual assault carries a maximum of 10 years in state prison, Khan said. Marsalis will be assessed to determine whether he is a sexually violent predator and will be required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

The jury began deliberating Thursday after 21/2 weeks of testimony highlighted by the appearances of the seven women, who accused Marsalis of drugging and raping them between 2003 and 2005.

At that time, the women were young professionals or obtaining advanced degrees or certifications.

One was a resident in the Metropolitan apartments near Hahnemann University Hospital, where Marsalis frequently roamed the halls in scrubs and a white lab coat with a phony ID.

Hexstall said the prosecution had employed "character assassination" by dwelling on the phony claims, the fake badges and manipulated photos, including one of Marsalis in an astronaut suit, "in order to get the jury to hate him."

The women did not immediately report the alleged rapes or go to a hospital to be examined, but all did confide to someone later that they had been raped.

Those corroborating witnesses and the similar accounts provided by the women, who did not know one another, were the key elements of the prosecution.

But the women's continued contacts with Marsalis - one befriended him, another had dinner with him, one called to recommend he go to a self-improvement seminar she was attending - had some trial followers believing the defense's contention that the women had consensual sex with him and regretted it after authorities told them that he was a fraud.

An official of Women Organized Against Rape, which monitored the trial, said she was pleased that the jury had held Marsalis "accountable for his actions," but was disappointed it had acquitted him of the most serious charges.

"We had hoped that he would be found guilty of all the charges," said Kathryn Fidler, the group's legal services director, who was in court each day of the trial.

"But our primary focus was, first and foremost, on the well-being of the victims in the case," she said. "It is very difficult to come into an open courtroom and have to talk about the worst experiences of your life. We really respect the women for doing that."

Marsalis was found not guilty in January 2006 of drugging and raping three other women.


Contact staff writer Robert Moran at 215-854-5983 or bmoran@phillynews.com.

Inquirer staff writers Jennifer Lin and Tom Infield contributed to this article.

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|