Prosecutors drop sex assault case against ex-U. Iowa student

AP News
|
Posted: Oct 27, 2015 5:48 PM
Prosecutors drop sex assault case against ex-U. Iowa student

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — A former University of Iowa student who spent 2 ½ years in prison in a sexual assault case will not face a new trial after a judge overturned his conviction, prosecutors said Tuesday.

Assistant Johnson County attorney Anne Lahey told The Associated Press she would dismiss the case against Evan Pfeifer, saying his accuser decided she did not want to testify and "relive the trauma of what happened to her."

"While we have complete confidence in our case and would have liked to have proceeded, it is her choice," Lahey said. "We understand and respect her decision."

Pfeifer contended the sexual encounter was consensual, and he welcomed Tuesday's news as a step toward restoring his reputation and rebuilding his life.

Pfeifer was accused of raping a female student on the university's Pentacrest lawn when he was an 18-year-old freshman in October 2010. A jury convicted him of third-degree sexual abuse in 2012 and he was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Judge Douglas Russell threw out his conviction June 30, saying errors by prosecutors and the defense influenced the verdict. He concluded that Lahey and another prosecutor asked witnesses improper questions to shore up the accuser's claims, while Pfeifer's attorney failed to object and didn't do enough to attack the woman's credibility.

Pfeifer has been free on bond since July 8 while awaiting the retrial, which had been scheduled for January. He said Tuesday's news was a relief, recalling how he "lost hope" at times during his 950-day stint in Iowa prisons.

"I'm in a state of shock. It's still surreal," he said in a phone interview from his father's home in suburban Chicago.

Pfeifer, now 23, said he hoped to put his life back together "piece by piece" and that he aims to earn a law degree and start a family. He's currently working in customer service at the retailer Kohl's.

The woman testified that she met Pfeifer while walking home after a night of heavy drinking. She contended Pfeifer put his hand over her mouth, held her down and raped her. She went to a hospital later that morning for a sexual assault examination — a nurse noted she was upset but had no physical injuries — but she didn't go to police until a month later.

The only witness was a passer-by who initially believed the two were having consensual sex but asked the woman whether she had been raped after seeing her sobbing minutes later.

Pfeifer was kicked out of school after a disciplinary hearing, then arrested and charged.

As part of an effort to get the case dropped, Pfeifer recently submitted to a polygraph examination by an expert, who found him truthful when he said the sexual encounter was consensual.

In a letter last month, Pfeifer's attorney, Gary Dickey, argued the result backed Pfeifer's claim of innocence. He also warned that the state would have "significant exposure to a wrongful imprisonment claim" if Pfeifer was acquitted.

Lahey said she gave no weight to the polygraph result and declined comment on the prospect of a wrongful imprisonment lawsuit.

Evan's father, Scott Pfeifer, said he planned to pursue civil action against everyone involved. He said he was proud of his son for handling his predicament with positivity.