BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A man convicted of rape in Idaho and sexual assault in Pennsylvania after prosecutors said he duped then drugged and assaulted women in both states will get a chance to argue his Idaho attorney was ineffective under a new ruling from the Idaho Supreme Court.
The ruling handed down Tuesday in Idaho’s highest court means Jeffrey Marsalis will get to have a hearing on his claim that his attorney should have presented an expert witness and taken other steps during his trial in 2009.
Marsalis’ case received widespread media attention in the mid-2000s, when prosecutors in Pennsylvania accused him of using the online dating site Match.com to meet potential victims. In those cases, prosecutors said Marsalis would often pretend to be an astronaut, surgeon or CIA agent to lure his dates, then drug them and sexually assault them. Marsalis, however, maintained the encounters were consensual. Juries in Philadelphia ultimately acquitted Marsalis of eight counts of rape, but convicted him of two counts of sexual assault. He was serving a 21-year sentence on that conviction when he was extradited to Idaho in 2008.
In the Idaho case, prosecutors said Marsalis was working at the Sun Valley Resort in 2005 when he drugged a coworker during a night of drinking, brought her back to his condominium and raped her. The woman testified that she woke the next day with little memory of the night before but realized she’d been sexually assaulted because she was bruised and sore and had some of her clothing on inside out. She went to police to report the rape and underwent sexual assault testing so authorities could gather evidence.
In that trial, Marsalis again contended that the sexual encounter was consensual, and claimed the woman must have experienced a blackout, a type of alcohol-induced temporary amnesia. The jury disagreed, however, and a judge sentenced him to life in prison for rape, saying he would be eligible for parole after serving at least 15 years.
In his appeal to the Idaho Supreme Court, Marsalis claimed his Idaho trial attorney was ineffective because he didn’t bring in an expert witness to testify about the scientific basis behind his “blackout defense.” He also said the attorney should have challenged the testimony of the state’s expert witness who testified about his and the victim’s blood alcohol levels. Marsalis also claimed that the attorney failed to present some favorable eyewitness testimony during the trial.
The unanimous Idaho Supreme Court said the eyewitness’ supposedly favorable testimony wouldn’t have had an impact on the case because it didn’t actually contradict the testimony of other witnesses, who said the victim was so intoxicated she nearly passed out during a shuttle ride back to the employee housing at the resort, and that she was unable to exit the vehicle on her own so Marsalis had to help her.
But the high court did say Marsalis should be given the chance to prove in court if his attorney was ineffective for failing to challenge the expert witness and failing to hire an expert to talk about the blackout defense.