After a little more than three hours of deliberation, a jury of seven women and five men decided Wednesday a 23-year-old former College of William and Mary football player was not guilty of nine charges connected to the alleged rape and strangulation of an 18-year-old athlete.
Steve Benedict Casper had been charged after he was accused of a violent sexual episode with the freshman student whom he met at a party at his home, referred to as the “football house” by a few witnesses who testified during the trial. The house is located on the 4400 block of Powhatan Crossing, located in the Powhatan Crossing subdivision in James City County.
The jury did not accept the prosecution’s case, siding with Casper after hearing more than three hours of testimony from the accuser, testimony from Casper, hours of testimony from her friends and the William and Mary staff who were around her in the days and weeks following the alleged incident and the James City County Police Department investigator who worked the case. They also listened to a nearly 30-minute closing argument from Williamsburg-James City County Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Gaten, who prosecuted the case.
The case centered around what happened in Casper’s bedroom in the early hours of Nov. 11, 2012. Both sides agreed Casper and the accuser met outside Casper’s house. She followed him inside at his invitation, and the two eventually ended up in the bedroom. Both sides agree there was consensual kissing on Casper’s bed. After that, the two sides split on what happened. The defense and prosecution spent Monday afternoon and all day Tuesday eliciting testimony from more than 20 people about what happened in the house and in the aftermath of the alleged incident.
“The ugly truth is that [the accuser] entered [Casper’s] bedroom by all accounts a happy, lively person,” Gaten said during his closing arguments Wednesday. “She left his bedroom a broken woman.”
The accuser told the jury she was raped and strangled in the bedroom before escaping and running out of the house. She told them she sprinted until she arrived at the 7-Eleven at Five Forks. The clerk who was working at the store that night testified her clothing was in a state of disarray and that she had “red markings” on her neck.
The story told by the accuser differed from that of Casper, who said he obeyed her when she told him to stop certain sexual activities and that he never prevented her from leaving.
Gaten repeatedly used the word “broken” to describe the accuser, who several people Tuesday said had displayed an abrupt shift in personality after the alleged incident. He criticized the testimony of Casper’s three roommates and two of their girlfriends — all of whom were present at the party — saying they said “a whole lot of nothing.” He also blasted the defense’s frequent mention of the dress the accuser wore to the party, which was shown by the state crime lab to have no blood or semen on it.
Casper’s attorney, William Linka, took a tape measure and pulled it out 4 feet before laying that on the ground in front of the jury as he made his closing arguments. He referred to the length of the tape measure as the amount of space between Casper’s bedroom door and the bedroom door of one of his roommates. The accuser testified Monday Casper had screamed at her and that she had hit her head against the wall multiple times during the incident, but none of the roommates or their girlfriends testified to hearing anything come from the bedroom.
“The [prosecution] has thrown a lot at you, but there’s no substance to any of it,” Linka told the jury. He said it was clear the accuser was upset but that “we don’t know why.”
“Her being upset doesn’t prove anything about what happened in that room,” he said.
While the accuser testified Casper kept her in the room for a few hours as she “texted for her life” and tried to find a way to leave, Casper testified they had engaged in consensual manual sex and that he stopped performing oral sex on her as soon as she tapped him on the head. He said she left when he asked her for a second time — after being rebuffed once — to perform oral sex on him.
Linka also criticized the accuser’s texting during the incident, asking throughout the trial why she didn’t text something like “help” or “rape” or “police” or “911” during the alleged incident. He pointed to a text she sent asking a friend to call a cab for her in 15 minutes as evidence that the encounter in the bedroom was not violent.
He also criticized hours of testimony from the accuser’s friends, teammates and others who were around her after the alleged incident. Many of those people talked about an abrupt shift in her personality from happy to a distressed state. Linka told the jury during his closing arguments those people had known her for 75 days or less.
During his closing arguments, Linka also voiced displeasure with the James City County Police Department’s investigation. After Investigator Kathy Swanson left her card with Casper’s roommate in January, Casper voluntarily went to the James City County Law Enforcement Center for questioning.
“The police aren’t interested in solving the case,” Linka said. “They’re interested in confessions because they don’t have to do anything else. All they want to do is arrest somebody and let someone else sort it out.”
He criticized the police for not searching the “football house” for any traces of blood. The accuser testified her vagina bled for a few days after the incident. Linka asked each of the roommates and their girlfriends Tuesday about a bag of Lucky Charms cereal that had been spilled all over the floor of the kitchen on the night of the party. During his closing arguments Wednesday, Linka used the cereal to illustrate the nature of the house’s cleanliness, suggesting that had the accuser been bleeding, police might have found some evidence had they looked.
The case had little physical evidence. In addition to the dress and the state crime lab report that accompanied it, Linka produced a photograph of Casper taken the morning after the incident was alleged to have occurred. In that picture, Casper was shown with a few hickeys, which Linka said contrasted with the accuser’s testimony. During her testimony, she said she bit at Casper’s neck twice and that when he got off her to inspect the bites, he became agitated and began screaming profanities at her.
Linka also brought up testimony from a William and Mary student who testified Tuesday he met the accuser at a party for fraternity Sigma Chi in January. He said after a fire alarm, he left the Sigma Chi house with the accuser, walking until they arrived at some train tracks where they made out. He then said they went to the accuser’s room. Linka said that story clashed with the accuser’s statement Monday that she had trouble spending time alone with men after the incident.
Gaten was allowed a brief reprisal to Linka’s closing argument. He spent that time telling the jury Linka glossed over testimony from the accuser and focused instead on Lucky Charms and the distinction between woods and suburbs. In his closing argument, Linka had talked about how the accuser said she was running from the “football house” on a path that took her past houses while one of her friends who was on the phone with the accuser when she said she left the house told the jury the accuser told her she had been running through the woods.
Gaten clapped in the courtroom during the rebuttal, asking sarcastically for the jury to give an academy award to the accuser and her friends for their “performance” were they to decide Casper wasn’t guilty.
“[Do you want to give her an Academy Award] or do you want to give her justice?” Gaten asked.
Had Casper been convicted on all of the charges he faced, he would have gone to prison for decades. He was charged with one count of abduction with intent to defile, one count of rape, one count of forcible sodomy, one count of attempted forcible sodomy, one count of strangulation, one count of sexual battery and three counts of object sexual penetration. Other than the sexual battery charge, all of the charges are felonies.
The abduction charge has a minimum sentence of 20 years while the rape charge has a minimum sentence of five years. The jury would have had discretion in some of the other charges, though more time behind bars would have been likely.
Casper was charged in connection to the incident March 20. He drove down from his Centreville home with his parents and turned himself in March 27. In May, he pleaded not guilty to the charges, setting up the jury trial. The trial was scheduled to wrap up by Tuesday, however the abundance of witnesses pushed the trial into a third day.