Wednesday, July 21, 2010

URI Sexual-Assault Trial Begins in Washington County

By Michael P. McKinney

Journal Staff Writer

SOUTH KINGSTOWN — A prosecutor on Tuesday described the alleged sexual assault of a female student by two University of Rhode Island students in a residence hall after a campus party in 2008 at the opening of their trial in Washington County Superior Court.

Yaw Peprah is accused of sexually assaulting the female “by force and coercion” on Sept. 14, 2008, in a bedroom in Wiley Hall. Estifanos Gizaw, is accused of coming into the room after Peprah left and forcing himself on her despite her repeatedly telling him no, said Assistant Attorney General Stephen A. Regine.

Regine said the assault occurred after a night that involved alcohol and marijuana and a campus party.

A jury of eight women and six men was selected Tuesday for the trial of Peprah, of Lincoln, and Gizaw, of Houston, Texas, each charged with first-degree sexual assault.

The defense is slated to make opening statements Wednesday. Peprah and Gazar pleaded not guilty to the charges in June 2009.

The woman, a freshman, and several people attended a campus party on the evening of Sept. 13, Regine said.

Regine said the woman and others around her drank alcohol and smoked marijuana that night. He emphasized to the jury that the woman was up front with authorities that she had been drinking and that she estimated having consumed several shots of vodka.

She had also been up front with Peprah, “continually” telling him that she “didn’t want to be with him” that early morning, according to Regine. When the assault allegedly happened, between midnight and 2 a.m. on Sept. 14, she told him repeatedly no. Stop, stop, stop, she said, according to Regine’s account for the jury.

But Peprah did not stop, Regine said.

As soon as Peprah left, Regine said, Gizaw entered the room and told the woman he wanted to have sex with her. “The evidence will show again that [Gizaw] overcame her will by force and coercion,” Regine said.

In December 2009, Marina Melillo, of North Belmore, N.Y., one of the people described Tuesday as attending the campus party, was indicted on first-degree sexual-assault charges in connection with the incident. The case involving her has not yet gone to trial. The Journal reported in December that Melillo was a URI student at the time of the incident, but had since withdrawn from the school.

The Journal does not identify people whom authorities say were victims of sexual assault.

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