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Victim recounts attack in hearing for suspect in BYU gropings

Published August 29, 2014 8:38 am

Hearing • Lawyer argues client has been mistakenly identified as attacker.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Provo • A victim of the alleged "BYU Groper" said having her breast grabbed by a passing jogger "was kind of like being punched in the face, only it's worse because it's not your face."

But attorneys for Nathan Fletcher argued in his preliminary hearing Thursday that prosecutors have the wrong man.

"This case is about identification," said attorney John Allan. "… They have the wrong guy."

Brigham Young University police Detective David Styer said members of the school's track team identified Fletcher as the jogger in surveillance footage from near the scenes of two of the16 attacks reported on and near campus from January to March.

Cougar track coach Ed Eyestone recalled the team meeting where Styer showed the footage to all members of men's and women's teams.

"I saw people suddenly looking back at me," Eyestone testified Thursday in 4th District Court. "They were nodding their heads in recognition [of Fletcher]. At least five people sitting in different parts of the room."

Fletcher faces misdemeanor sexual battery charges in the two attacks where video was available. The 14 other reported assaults resulted in no charges, prosecutors said, because the evidence was inadequate.

In one of the two attacks, the victim testified that her assailant grabbed her breast and stole an apple she was eating as she walked with her roommate to a stake conference near Heritage Halls.

"We were shocked for a moment," said the woman, who was a freshman at the time of the attack and now is an LDS missionary. "And we stopped there and had to take a minute to register, 'Wait, did that really just happen?'"

Allan pointed to inconsistencies between the victim's initial description to police and the man seen jogging in footage filmed near the alleged attack. In a police report, the victim wrote that her attacker wore a white tank top and short, neon green shorts. She wrote that she noticed how "flamboyantly colorful he was as well as how fairly immodest he was with his apparel."

The jogger in the surveillance footage appeared to be wearing a gray, long-sleeved shirt and shorts that are short but dark colored.

The victim said she may have remembered his apparel inaccurately, but the absence of any other joggers in the video gave her a "great deal of certainty" the man filmed was her attacker.

"The times match up. The locations match up," she said. Styer said surveillance footage shows only one jogger in the area at the time, and no footage shows Fletcher jogging along the off-campus route he claims he took that day.

In Fletcher's apartment, officers found clothing issued by the track team that may match those worn by the jogger in video from March 15 and March 19, when another groping was directly captured by a security camera.

Allan argued that none of the clothing articles was one-of-a-kind, even blue and green sneakers similar to Fletcher's that were captured in the video.

"In a nutshell, we have dark shorts, a gray shirt, dark pants and a gray hoodie, and Mr. Fletcher has those same items in his home," Allan said. "With none of the gear, there's anything definitive. Consistent, I understand, but [not] definitive … that is exactly the same gear."

Ann Haymond, office manager for the track team, said she immediately recognized the clothes.

I knew it was … the [uniform] that the team gets," she testified. "I'm familiar with what is issued. It's very specific. Not everybody gets our issue. Just the members of the team."

When team members saw the footage, they recognized Fletcher's gait and the band holding his glasses around his head, Eyestone said. While conceding Allan's argument that a gait isn't like a "fingerprint," Eyestone said people land on different parts of their feet, with their torsos rotated to different degrees and with different lengths of back kick.

Allan said the grainy video offers little but a view of clothing that resembles items issued to dozens of team members.

"A lot of people are making conclusions that I don't think are depicted by the videos themselves," he said.

The defense hit a snag when Judge Roger Griffin would not let Allan question Styer about the 14 reported gropings Fletcher is not charged with. Allan pointed to media statements by police that the M.O. of the "BYU Groper" was similar in all 16 reports, and asked Styer for details of his investigation into Fletcher's alibis in all the assaults. Allan also elicited Styer's testimony that in some of those cases, Fletcher was included in photo lineups but wasn't identified by victims as the assailant.

"I'm still open to the possibility of other individuals [who assaulted students]," Styer said.

Prosecutors objected, saying that the assaults where no charges were filed are irrelevant to the two attacks at hand. Griffin agreed and would not hear testimony about them.

Allan said he wants to know what all the other victims reported to police but accepts the judge's decision.

"I don't believe it hurts our case," he said.

The preliminary hearing will continue on Sept. 25.

ealberty@sltrib.com