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Jury acquits former Mormon leader accused of sex assault

Published May 24, 2014 11:30 am

Courts • Defense claims Efrey Guzman was mistaken for man who assaulted girl, so family attacked him.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

For two years, Efrey Guzman stood firm in the face of lurid and bizarre accusations.

When prosecutors said the former LDS branch president assaulted a teen girl in her Millcreek home, he denied it. When they said he attacked a mother, he insisted he had not. When they said he bit the penis of a young man so severely that the man required reparative surgery, he swore his innocence.

On Friday, Guzman left the courthouse a free man.

An eight-person jury acquitted the 48-year-old man of all charges: aggravated sexual assault and aggravated burglary, both first-degree felonies, and sex abuse of a child and forcible sexual abuse, second-degree felonies.

"He's a good man, a church man, and he was accused of a very awful, awful crime of which he was innocent," said Guzman's defense attorney Bel-Ami De Montreux. "He simply was not there. He has an alibi."

In the course of Guzman's five-day trial, prosecutors accused the man of groping a 13-year-old girl in May 2012, then returning for her three months later, crazed with desire.

They said he burst through the front door, shouting for the 13-year-old girl, pushed the mother to the floor, ripped her shirt, grabbed her breast and choked her as he attempted to undo his pants.

"He was trying to rape me," the mother testified at a preliminary hearing last year. "I kept trying to get him off, and I was screaming for my son."

But, de Montreux said, that's not what happened.

When pressed on who attacked the girl in May, the family could only recall that it was a man named Frank. A family friend.

But they couldn't describe him well enough for police to conduct a search or identify him in a lineup, de Montreux said.

So, when Guzman showed up to the family's home in August to offer his help to the family, who had immigrated to the U.S. from Haiti, de Montreux said, they attacked him, thinking he was Frank.

The mother opened the door, de Montreux said, and immediately knocked Guzman unconscious with an umbrella. She began beating and biting Guzman, leaving a gruesome trail of marks along the small man's body.

"There was a 911 tape where the girl was screaming to 911, 'We have him; we're not going to let him go. Hurry up! I know my mama, she's going to kill him,' " de Montreux said. "President Guzman left that day covered in bite marks even a pit bull could not administer to a human being."

When her son, a 20-year-old man, entered the fray wearing nothing but a pair of boxers, de Montreux said, the woman accidentally bit her son's penis thinking it instead belonged to the unconscious man on her floor.

"Our contention is in the process of biting the crap out of him, after they knocked him unconscious when he opened the door, the woman, thinking she was biting [Guzman's] penis, ended up biting her son's penis," de Montreaux said. "That's what happened. That's what the jury believed. They came back in two hours with a not-guilty verdict on all counts."

The mother admitted to biting Guzman — but only after she saw what had allegedly been done to her son.

"I bit him on his face after I saw [my son's] injury," the mother testified last year. "I was punching him and biting him, and when his hand was on my breast, I bit his arm — and I would do it again, too!"

Guzman testified in his own defense on Thursday alongside a steady stream of witnesses who told the jury that Guzman was a kind, honest man who couldn't have assaulted the teenager in May — when she claimed a man pushed her up against a wall, kissed and fondled her — because he was working and coordinating events at his Latino congregation in Sandy.

Guzman, who sheepishly said in Spanish on Friday that he was happy to be done with the trial and have his life back, said he hopes he will be reinstated with the LDS Cchurch and get his job back.

"He has to be welcomed back — he's a good man, he's a free man and he wants to forgive everybody," de Montreax said. "This is the kind of person you come to love. We stayed on this case when we couldn't even finance it because after studying the evidence, you become convinced that this is an innocent man."

According to court documents, the defense called nearly a dozen witnesses in the case, including members of Guzman's family, his church congregation, a medical doctor and the defendant himself.

Guzman was released from his calling as a leader in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints after he was charged in August 2012. He had been a branch president of a Latino congregation in Sandy. A branch is smaller than a ward.

Several members of his congregation have attended court hearings in a show of solidarity with their former president.

mlang@sltrib.com

Twitter: @Marissa_Jae