Provo • A jury on Wednesday acquitted a Utah man accused of raping a 19-year-old Brigham Young University student in 2015.
The jury deliberated for five hours after hearing testimony over two weeks before finding now-41-year-old Nasiru Seidu not guilty of first-degree felony rape, prosecutors confirmed late Wednesday.
On the first day of trial, the alleged victim, now 21, testified about the Sept. 25, 2015, encounter, telling jurors that she had consensual sexual contact with Seidu on that date, but at some point she got a “really bad feeling” and told him that she did not want to continue.
Seidu then pulled off her clothing, threw her on her bed and raped her, she testified.
“I screamed,” she said. “I just remember screaming and screaming, telling him, ‘No, get off me.’”
The Salt Lake Tribune generally does not identify victims of sexual abuse. The alleged victim in this case had agreed to be identified in reporting about BYU’s sexual assault policies, but she did not want her name published in coverage of the trial.
In his closing argument Wednesday afternoon, defense attorney Matthew Morrise told jurors that the state’s case relies solely on whether the jury could believe the alleged victim, and he accused her of telling various stories about the rape to suit her audience. Her account shifted from preliminary hearing to trial, Morrise argued, and then later as she spoke with media in her efforts to change reporting policies at Brigham Young University.
“You can not convict Mr. Seidu unless you can trust that source,” Morrise told jurors. “She has to have credibility. If you finish this and you have any question about [her] credibility, you must find Mr. Seidu not guilty.”
While Morrise accused the alleged victim of lying about the rape to avoid getting in trouble with the school’s Honor Code, prosecutor Sherry Ragan said the woman had nothing to gain from continuing to pursue this case now.
The policies at BYU have changed, she said, and the woman is no longer at that university.
“She has come before you, and she is asking you to believe her,” she told the jury. “She told you that she’s sick of this going on and she wants to get on with her life.”
The alleged victim reported the encounter to police four days later, she testified, despite her concerns that the university might have access to her police report and punish her.
BYU officials did find out about her case after a Utah County sheriff’s deputy who knew Seidu shuttled the police report to the Honor Code Office, which investigates allegations of student misconduct.
The school, owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, enforces an Honor Code that forbids alcohol, coffee and premarital sex; imposes a dress code and curfew; and bans expressions of romantic affection between people of the same gender.
The alleged victim was forbidden from enrolling in classes unless she cooperated with an investigation into her conduct in connection to the rape allegation. Prosecutors had advised her not to participate in a school investigation while criminal charges were pending against Seidu.
After outcry from the alleged victim and others, the school began studying its handling of sexual assault reports. Last October, it released a list of 23 recommendations for improving its response — including amnesty for victims who report being assaulted.