As former Seattle Impact indoor professional soccer team owner Dion Earl pleaded guilty to a decade-old rape Wednesday, his victim listened remotely by speakerphone with disbelief and relief that her ordeal was finally over.
A onetime massage-parlor attendant now in her mid-30s, she described in a subsequent phone interview with The Seattle Times her years of depression and post-traumatic stress after Kirkland police let the case lapse, then closed it. Only after Earl’s 2017 arrest in Arizona on charges of sexual assault against two women babysitting his children — for which he is now serving a 12-year prison sentence — did police reopen the 2009 case under a different detective, leading to Wednesday’s guilty plea to a reduced charge of third-degree felony rape.
“It felt like after 11 years of everything I went through, I finally got some resolution,’’ she said, moments after Earl, 48, extradited from Arizona to face a more severe initial charge of second-degree rape, entered his plea in King County Superior Court. “I’ve struggled for years. It’s affected every single person in my life. It’s affected every relationship.’’
That’s why, as badly as she wanted her day in court, she realized she’d be better off gaining closure by consenting to the deal between King County prosecutors and Earl, a former Seattle Pacific University standout who had a brief mid-1990s professional career with the Sounders’ outdoor “A-league” team and the indoor Seattle SeaDogs. While the rape charge carries a maximum five-year prison term, the plea agreement recommends Earl serve two years, nine months in addition to his Arizona sentence.
That’s the lowest end of the typical 33-to-43-month range for those with similar prior criminal convictions. Sentencing is Oct. 16, and the judge doesn’t have to abide by the deal’s recommended term.
The victim, then a single mother raising a young daughter, told police she’d been alone at the massage business on Sept. 27, 2009, awaiting an off-hours client assigned by her boss and whose identity she did not know. She said she gave a massage to the man, whom she identified as Earl months later through online soccer photos, and he then asked her to fondle him by hand. She did so only after he pretended to be a police officer and threatened her with arrest if she didn’t have sexual intercourse with him.
Earl initially denied sexual contact other than the fondling. But later, the first police detective, Cristina Gilland, said Earl changed his story and claimed they’d had consensual sex and that the woman had threatened to extort him by telling his pregnant girlfriend.
Gilland had been provided underwear worn by the woman that night that were said to have Earl’s bodily fluids on them. But Gilland opted not to pursue DNA from Earl — who was declining to provide it — and put in her report that it wouldn’t prove more than the consensual sex Earl claimed.
The case languished more than four years with no further investigation or conclusion.
By 2014, Earl owned the Kent-based Seattle Impact professional indoor soccer team in the fledgling Major Arena Soccer League. But 22 of his players walked out on him shortly after two members of the squad’s all-female dance team told police that Earl had sexually assaulted them.
The King County Sheriff’s Office also dropped that case for a lack of evidence, though the two dancers and four other former team staffers later won nearly $1 million in damages and court fees from Earl in a lawsuit alleging sexual assault, harassment and unfair treatment by him.
A Seattle Times story on the Impact dancers’ allegations in December 2014 outlined Earl’s lengthy history of alleged misconduct toward women — including the 2009 Kirkland rape investigation and several restraining orders against him. A 2003 Times investigation, “Coaches who Prey,’’ had also detailed how Earl lost a high school coaching job in Bellevue in 1998 for asking a 17-year-old cheerleader for a date.
Soon after, the indoor soccer league forced Earl to sell his first-year Impact franchise.
Amid the publicity, Kirkland police also finally wrote a conclusion to the 2009 case and closed it, citing a lack of evidence.
Free from prosecution in King County, Earl continued to split time between a residence in Kent and another in Mesa, Arizona. The Mesa home was where Earl sexually assaulted the babysitters, ages 18 and 21, a month apart in late 2017.
Last August, a jury in Phoenix found Earl guilty on all counts, despite his denials throughout the two-week trial. The Impact dancers who had accused Earl of fondling them in 2014 were flown in to testify about their alleged ordeals, which he also dismissed as lies.
Wednesday’s guilty plea by Earl was the first time he’s admitted in court to sexual violence against a woman.
Dressed in red jailhouse clothing and wearing a black face mask per COVID-19 safety regulations, he listened as Pro-Tem Judge Ken Comstock read aloud from Earl’s signed statement to the court. In it, Earl admitted the victim “did not consent to sexual intercourse and that was clearly expressed by her actions.”
The victim thought that moment would never happen.
She’d asked Kirkland police to revisit the case after reading in The Times about the Impact dancers’ 2014 allegations.
“I was really angry,’’ she said. “I never asked them to close the case.’’
She gave up trying, convinced they weren’t taking her seriously. Then, after reading about the Arizona cases in 2017, she tried again.
“It makes it hard to heal when every couple of years you see that he is hurting somebody else,’’ she said. “I went in and spoke to them again and I have to say, I probably was a little abrasive.’’
This time, Kirkland police reassigned a new detective — Mark Brown — to the case.
Brown collected DNA evidence from Earl while he was in custody awaiting trial in Arizona. A state crime laboratory matched Earl’s DNA to that found on the underwear provided years earlier.
Earl was charged with rape in June 2019.
By then, the victim had reached out on social media to others who had crossed paths with Earl. One was Amy David, a former Impact office manager who had been part of the team staffers’ successful lawsuit against Earl.
She said David “believed me’’ and offered needed support while she awaited word on the new police investigation. In the interim, they made police and prosecutors in Arizona aware of media coverage of Earl’s legal past in King County and their experiences.
Those cases here — despite no criminal charges being filed — served as a key part of the Arizona prosecution that landed Earl his 12-year prison sentence.
Earl also faces up to 10 years in prison on federal charges he orchestrated a $1.1 million fraud scheme involving the Impact and other businesses. But regardless of what happens next, the victim in the Kirkland case is moving on.
She says the massage parlor was “an old life’’ and she’s held a steady job for years, raising her now-teenage daughter. She plans to return to school to pursue a business degree.
She’ll also reclaim some peace of mind, knowing she — and others wronged by Earl — finally brought him to justice.
“I felt alone for years — that I was battling this alone,’’ she said. “I think the beauty of it is, at the end I wasn’t so alone.’’