By Danielle Eden C. Silva and Fabiha Zaman
Final Witnesses Testify in Vibat Trial
By Danielle Eden C. Silva
Both the defense and the People finished presenting their evidence during the morning session in Department 14, leaving the jury instructions and the closing statements of the trial of Rodwin Vibat to the afternoon.
Prior to the entry of the jury, Judge David Rosenberg went over the jury instructions with Deputy Public Defender Emily Fisher and Deputy District Attorney Ryan Couzens. They briefly spoke over some changes, which included the removal of “simple” in front of the charges of sexual assault and battery. Additionally, Mr. Couzens mentioned that one of the jury instructions was included so that the jury may take one of Mr. Vibat’s motives as sexual abuse, sexual arousal, or sexual gratification. The court also asked about the term “rape-trauma syndrome” which Mr. Couzens shared he would bring up with his expert later that day.
The jury was brought in and introduced with the first witness of the day, “FB” for the defense.
FB had been a client of Mr. Vibat’s, receiving around 30 full body massages from him over the course of two years on a regular schedule. She stated he had never been inappropriate or made her feel
uncomfortable. Mr. Vibat had never touched her breast tissue or went near the vaginal area; he actually helped very much with her back, shoulders, and lower hip. At the end of each session, the defendant would place his hand on her forehead and thank her.
FB was excused. “HC” came forward for the People.
Mr. Vibat and HC became friends through HC’s best friend who was also Mr. Vibat’s coworker. After meeting the defendant, she received massages from him for four years, totaling around 25 full body massages. He had helped her with many physical injuries, including damage to both of her ankles. Over a year ago, she had stopped after three inappropriate incidents during her massages.
When her best friend told her about the article about this case, one or two weeks after its publication, HC called the police.
The first incident occurred after two or more years of massage sessions with Mr. Vibat. He had massaged too close to the vagina and brushed past her labia majora. HC noted she often wore a sports bra and short spandex shorts. She jumped, told him to stop, then continued with the massage. The victim believed the brushing to be an accident, but noted he had never gone that close before.
In the second incident, the defendant had massaged the top of her breast tissue, an area she was grossed out by but, again, she gave him the benefit of the doubt. She again told him there was no point in massaging that area and he proceeded with a different area.
The third incident had been the last time she had seen or taken a massage from Mr. Vibat. She had been a couple hours into the massage and had been speaking to the masseur. His hands were too close to her inner thighs and he began to shush her. She told him not to shush her – but HC shared she had been talking a lot. HC stood up and left the massage then. The defendant had massaged her pubic bone and lower abdomen. The victim interpreted the shushing as hostile in an interview with the police.
In the cross-examination by Ms. Fisher, HC noted that she thought about what he did to her and had been disgusted at what the articles she read said about him. She had never dated the defendant and began the massages immediately after meeting him. Additionally, she had always stopped him when he went into inappropriate areas because she felt she could speak to him on it. They would have massages between the incidents where nothing would have happened.
In redirect by Mr. Couzens, HC testified that she found the acts sexual in nature but she trusted him so she gave him the benefit of the doubt.
HC, through answering jury questions, said that she ended sessions with Mr. Vibat because of the shushing and touching. She also let her best friend know of what had happened.
HC was excused and is subject to recall.
Officer Mike Munoz, a Patrol Lieutenant with the Davis Police Department and previously a detective, was sworn in and testified on the stand.
Officer Munoz had been involved with interviewing clients of Mr. Vibat who had stepped forward. DC, who testified previously, had shared that the defendant had massaged too close to her genitalia. HC had been interviewed by another officer but her statement shared that Vibat had massaged her pubic bone and worked close to her breast, but didn’t mention if he touched them or not. PH, who also testified before this day, noted Mr. Vibat had massaged toward her nipples and then grabbed them. PC noted he had not touched her genitalia but been close to it.
Officer Munoz was excused. An expert for the People was sworn in and testified.
Jaquelynn Lira is a Victim Advocacy Specialist at UC Davis Center for Advocacy Resources and Education (CARE) Program. She has been a victim advocate for 11 years, working at UC Davis for six years. Her job entails that she works specifically with sexual assault victims. She has worked with around 1,200 victims over a variety of cases and instructs sexual assault investigators. This is the second time she has testified in court.
The court recognized Ms. Lira as an expert in the area of counter-intuitive victim dynamics in sexual assault cases, in accordance to the events.
Ms. Lira, asked about “rape-trauma syndrome,” noted that term was not considered out of date and they also used the term “neurobiology of trauma.” This term refers to the continuum of behaviors of how rape victims react to assault, immediately afterward or over the course of months. Ms. Lira stated there is no right way to react, even if a common misconception is they should immediately fight back, report, or take some action. Reaction is not a conscious decision, in fact freezing is very common. Additionally, the one behind the sexual assault is usually someone they know, so victims attempt to re-frame the circumstances to make sense of them.
The expert confirmed that delayed or absent reports are common. If a past reporting was a negative experience, that may also play a factor into reporting.
In cross-examination by the defense, Ms. Lira shared she hadn’t received any facts on the case and she spoke in general about these topics, not knowing how they would apply to the instant case.
Ms. Lira was then excused.
The parties then stipulated to the investigating detective’s testimony on interviewing HC. HC’s testimony only recounted the first two incidents and her involvement with Mr. Vibat. She had known him for four years, having started the massages for chronic back pain immediately after she met him. In the last massage incident, she was told to shush and he massaged close to her vagina. HC then got up and left. On August 17, 2017, she would call in after seeing an article on the suspect.
Both sides rested and the jury was excused for lunch. The court briefly spoke on the purpose of the expert witness’ testimony. Attorney Couzens shared he had Ms. Lira speak for the credibility of the witnesses. The court was then adjourned for lunch.
Closing Arguments Begin in Sexual Battery Case
By Fabiha Zaman
On Thursday afternoon in Department 14, closing arguments began in the matter of the People v. Rodwin Vibat. Judge David Rosenberg first read a long list of instructions for the jury in regard to the closing arguments made by the attorneys and deliberation.
During instructions, Judge Rosenberg also listed the charges. The defendant, Rodwin Yamsone Vibat, is charged with six counts. Each count includes lesser charges. There are three counts of sexual battery by fraudulent representation and three counts of sexual battery.
The jury was reminded of the importance of evaluating intent in these charges and how to understand and use the expert testimony. Then they were told what the People needed to prove in each of the charges.
For the sexual battery by fraudulent representation charge, the People had to prove that the defendant touched the victim in an intimate part; that the touch was for arousal, gratification, or abuse; that the defendant fraudulently represented that the touching served a professional purpose; and that the victim was not conscious of the sexual nature of the act.
For the sexual battery charge, the People had to prove that the defendant had touched an intimate part of the victim’s body, that the touch was against the will of the victim, and that the act was done for sexual arousal, gratification, or abuse.
Judge Rosenberg then went over the lesser charges of simple battery and simple assault. For the simple battery charge, the People had to prove that the defendant willfully touched the victim in a harmful or rude manner.
The simple assault charge required that the defendant be found guilty of performing the act in question willfully, that he was aware that his act by nature would require force, and that he had the ability to apply force in this case.
After Judge Rosenberg had finished instructing the jury and reviewing the charges, Deputy District Attorney Ryan Couzens began his closing arguments. He started by playing a recording from a police interview. The defendant can be heard telling the officer that he waited for the women to tell him when to stop and that they had the control in the massage therapy sessions. Mr. Couzens compared the defendant’s statements to victim blaming.
Mr. Couzens went through each of the three alleged victims (two charges for each victim) and how Vibat’s interactions with them prove the charges. For the first victim, Couzens pointed out she had testified that Vibat touched her vagina. The victim also testified that when she confronted him about it, he admitted to touching her vagina.
The intent can be inferred from the massage and gradual touching itself, argued Mr. Couzens. He referred to the defendant’s repetition of the word “energy,” which can be assumed to mean sexual arousal.
Additionally, Mr. Couzens argued that Vibat misrepresented the professional intent of the massage. The women went into the massage session by putting their trust in Vibat, and they were right to assume that every touch would be professional.
The second victim to give testimony for this case said that Vibat touched her breasts and pulled her nipples. Mr. Couzens said that again the intent could be inferred from her testimony and the circumstances, including when the victim said she was “shocked” and that her trust was destroyed and she felt ashamed and upset.
A third victim had previously also testified that Vibat rubbed her pelvic bone and “brushed” the inner thigh and vaginal area. Again, Mr. Couzens argued that the intent can be inferred from the circumstance. Additionally he said that the misrepresentation of the situation led to the victim being unaware of the sexual nature of the act. In this victim’s case, she had trusted Vibat and thought he was a good massage therapist until that instant.
The prosecution points out that these incidents were not accidents, and these things do not just happen. The defendant knew what he was doing.
Mr. Couzens explained that if the defendant actually and reasonably believed that there was consent, there would be the possibility of a defense. However, none of the evidence suggested there was consent. He then argued the proof of the three sexual battery charges, emphasizing the evidence overlap from the sexual battery by fraudulent representation charges.
Before finishing his arguments, Mr. Couzens talked about helpful tools for the jury to reach a verdict. These included the false statements made earlier by the defendant, which Mr. Couzens said could prove a consciousness of guilt, and the expert testimony of Jackie Lira. He also added that CALCRIM Jury Instruction No. 375 allowed for past acts of this nature to be considered as evidence of knowledge and thus proving that the act was not a mistake. Instruction 1191 was also highlighted as a special rule that stated past sex crimes can show propensity for other alleged sex crimes.
After Mr. Couzens finished, Deputy Public Defender Emily Fisher, representing Vibat, began her closing arguments. She started by arguing that Vibat should not be found guilty of the sexual battery by fraudulent representation charges because all three victims had testified that they were aware of the sexual nature.
Defense further argued that although it is difficult to set aside emotions like empathy and sympathy in this case, by not setting them aside, Vibat would never get a fair trial. She told the jury that it was necessary to apply the rules with an objective point of view. Ms. Fisher also talked about the importance of the presumption of innocence and how public opinion in a case like this cannot be allowed to hinder that.
Ms. Fisher then went through the different levels of burden placed on the People, listing the standard of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt as the highest standard. She also turned the jury’s attention to inconsistent testimonies and statements given by alleged victims two and three. For instance, victim two testified in court that her breasts were touched and her nipples were pulled, however, when she gave a statement to the officers who interviewed her shortly after the incident, she told them her nipples were never touched.
Similarly, Ms. Fisher argued that the third alleged victim’s testimony and statements were also inconsistent. She said that the third victim told Officer Dan LaFond and Officer Mike Munoz that her breasts were never touched, however, in court she said Vibat did touch her breasts.
Defense counsel added that, although men do not typically “accidentally” touch women’s vaginas, this was an intimate setting and the alleged victims were there for inner-thigh massages.
Before court adjourned for the day, Ms. Fisher suggested that there was no direct evidence of sexual intent demonstrated by Vibat, only circumstantial evidence, and the jury should weigh the evidence in that matter.
Department 14 will reconvene on Friday morning at 9 a.m., beginning with the last half of defense counsel’s closing statements.