PHOENIX — Former Seattle Impact indoor soccer team owner Dion Earl was found guilty Thursday on all six counts in a sexual assault trial in which he was accused by two Arizona women hired to babysit his children.
The jury in the two-week trial in Maricopa County Superior Court also heard testimony from two former Impact dance-team members, who alleged that Earl, 47, sexually assaulted them in a pair of incidents five years ago. King County prosecutors did not file charges in either case.
While the incidents from 2014 they detailed in court weren’t part of the Arizona trial — a point that defense lawyer Jesus Acosta repeatedly tried making to jurors — they were used to bolster the prosecution’s contention that Earl is a repeat offender with crimes extending beyond Arizona. Lead prosecutor Yigael Cohen summed up in closing arguments, countering claims that the Seattle women prejudiced the jury: “The defendant is not a victim. He is a sexual predator.”
Earl, a former Seattle Pacific University star and Seattle SeaDogs indoor pro, remained impassive as the verdicts were read. He faces 7 to 17 years in prison, though it’s unlikely he’ll get more than 12 as a first-time offender. He is to be sentenced Oct. 11.
For Elizabeth Buslon, 27, one of the Seattle-area women flown here by prosecutors, the offer of a day in court proved too compelling to refuse.
“The more I thought about it, if he did that same thing to them after he did it back then to me, he’s not going to stop,’’ she said after her testimony.
The Seattle Times does not usually name sexual-assault victims, but Buslon agreed to be named for this story and an earlier report about her allegations in The Times.
Earl’s legal woes aren’t over. After his October 2017 arrest in the Arizona cases, Kirkland police reopened a decade-old investigation into an alleged assault on a massage-parlor attendant and King County prosecutors charged Earl in June with second-degree rape.
That case is on hold pending the conclusion of this one.
Earl, who commuted between homes in Kent and Mesa, Arizona, was indicted last year on federal charges of orchestrating a $1.3 million tax-fraud scheme involving the Impact and his other businesses.
Former Impact office manager Amy David, who had long advocated for the two dance team members and assisted Arizona police with some early information-gathering, hopes the women finally gain some closure.
“I’m so proud of the strength and courage that all of his victims have shown,” David said Thursday. “I truly hope that this gives other victims of similar situations the courage to come forward. We pray that Dion Earl never has the opportunity to hurt anyone else ever again.”
David, the two dance team members and three Impact office staffers in January 2017 received a default judgment for $742,000 in damages — $410,000 going to the dancers — and $215,500 for legal fees in a lawsuit against Earl alleging assaults, harassment and emotional distress. They have yet to collect any money, but their lawyer, Jason Rittereiser of Seattle-based HKM Employment Attorneys, said Thursday he’s put a lien on Earl’s home in Kent and that it should be sold this fall to help pay some of that judgment.
“Today, we are proud of the justice system and of our clients whom have been steadfast in their pursuit of holding Dion Earl accountable for his conduct and the harm he has caused others,” Rittereiser said. “The law can be a powerful tool to hold those to account, and while the wheels of justice may turn slowly, today justice has been done.”
In the courtroom Thursday, as a clerk read the guilty verdicts on one count of sexual assault, one for sexual abuse, two for kidnapping, one for public sexual indecency and one for assault, one of the babysitters, now 20, began crying, as did her mother. It was that woman’s claim in October 2017 that Earl restrained her in a bedroom at his Mesa home, fondled her and masturbated in front of her that led to his arrest.
He’s been held without bail for the nearly two years since.
“This is the ‘West Coast Predator,’ ” the babysitter’s stepfather, OD Harris, told reporters outside the courtroom. “That’s what I’ve always called him. And with the guilty verdict, I can truly say this is the West Coast predator. He toured the whole west wing of the U.S. sexually assaulting women and it finally came to an end.”
Flanked by their attorney, Benjamin Taylor, Harris and his wife, Elizabeth Ward, long critical of authorities, called on prosecutors and police in Washington and elsewhere to continue their investigations.
“You have the facts now,” he said. “Guilty in Phoenix, Arizona. Will there be a guilty verdict in Seattle? We’re asking you to act now. Open the cases, wherever you may be. Open up the cases against this man. Look into the details — even if you think that it’s not enough details or evidence there. Do the victims a favor. Go and investigate.”
Mesa police had already been investigating a complaint by another babysitter six weeks earlier, who said she’d been restrained on a bed at Earl’s home, fondled and molested. In that case, it was a Lyft driver who’d later alerted police, testifying the woman was distraught and curled in a “fetal position’’ in his car after he picked her up at the home.
Earl’s lawyer, Acosta, argued throughout that the prosecution lacked scientific evidence and that the Seattle women — and a nanny who alleged Earl sexually abused her during multiple family trips to Las Vegas — were distracting the jury.
“You listened to the evidence, you listened to all of it and you’ll decide two cases,” Acosta told jurors Wednesday during his closing argument. “We’re not talking about five versus one. We’re talking about two cases.”
But prosecutor Cohen countered that the testimony of all five women was indeed crucial evidence.
“The defendant would have you believe that these five women — only two of whom knew each other — are all liars,” Cohen said. “And that he is the one who is being victimized by some conspiracy. The testimony of these five women is remarkably consistent with each other in each case.”
One of the Impact dance team members testified that in September 2014, Earl took her to the VIP room of a bar in Sodo, put his mouth on her breast and hand on her crotch before she pushed him away. The incident occurred after she’d gone with Earl and two Impact players to hand out promotional flyers outside a Sounders game.
Buslon testified that Earl invited her to a 2014 business meeting at his Kent home, pushed her over an ottoman and began rubbing himself against her buttocks. She told the court Earl also rubbed her breasts as she struggled to leave.
The King County Sheriff’s Office investigated but prosecutors declined to file charges. The dance team and several office staffers resigned shortly after, while the majority of Earl’s players quit in protest after one game of the Impact’s first and only Major Arena Soccer League season.
Earl disbanded the Impact soon after The Times reported in December 2014 the allegations and his history of alleged misconduct toward women over nearly two decades prior. At least five protection orders had been sought against him, while he also lost a high school coaching job in Bellevue in 1998 after asking a female student on a date.
For former Impact dance team member Buslon, facing Earl in court proved tougher than expected.
“I thought I would do a lot better emotionally because it’s been so long,” she said. “I feel like it was just yesterday now. When you have to relive it and see it all in person, it felt like no time had passed.”
Editor’s note: This story was corrected to reflect the relationship between OD Harris and one of the victims; he is her stepfather. The name of the victim’s mother was not included in the photo caption and has been added.