Former USU football player gets 7-month jail sentence for sexually assaulting a sleeping woman

Ismael Kalani Vaifo’ou pleaded guilty to three second-degree felonies.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Old Main Building at Utah State University. A former USU football player was ordered Tuesday to spend around seven months in jail after he admitted to sexually assaulting a sleeping woman in her bed.

A former Utah State University football player was ordered Tuesday to spend around seven months in jail after he admitted to drunkenly entering several on-campus dorm rooms and sexually assaulting a sleeping woman in her bed.

First District Court Judge Angela Fonnesbeck told Ismael Kalani Vaifo’ou that she would normally send a defendant like him to prison, after he pleaded guilty to serious felonies. But she didn’t, she said, because of a plea deal he reached with prosecutors where they agreed to not recommend prison time — which the victim and her family did not want.

The 23-year-old man pleaded guilty in June to two counts of forcible sexual abuse and a charge of burglary, all second-degree felonies that carried the potential of up to 15 years in prison. Fonnesbeck sentenced Vaifo’ou to spend 210 days in the Cache County jail. He also will be required to register as a sex offender.

Court records state that Vaifo’ou had been drinking alcohol at a party on April 17, 2021, and a friend gave him a ride back to a USU dormitory early the next morning.

He admitted in court records that he entered several dorm rooms “mistakenly thinking they were mine.”

Vaifo’ou then entered the victim’s room wearing only his underwear, according to police. She awoke to him – a stranger — groping and sexually assaulting her.

When Vaifo’ou was arrested at 4:30 a.m. that morning, he had a blood alcohol level of 0.13, according to court records.

The victim did not speak at Tuesday’s sentencing. Her parents tearfully told the judge that they flew to Utah as quickly as they could after their daughter called and told them she was sexually assaulted and was at the hospital getting an examination.

The mother said that once she got to Logan, she held her daughter tight, noticing that the young woman couldn’t stop shaking and jolted at every sound.

“I just held her and said it was going to be OK,” the mother said. “To see her weak and shaking and scared was the hardest thing, as a mother, that I ever had to do.”

The Salt Lake Tribune generally does not identify victims of sexual assault.

The parents told Fonnesbeck that they wanted to show compassion towards Vaifo’ou, and are trying to forgive him for what he did.

“We don’t want to ruin his life,” the mother said, before addressing Vaifo’ou directly and adding: “We hope and pray that you can move on and that you’ll make good choices and that you’ve learned from this. My daughter is going to be OK, and we are going to be OK. We just hope that you move on and make better choices.”

The jail sentence was less than prosecutors wanted, which was a full year behind bars. Defense attorney Cara Tangaro had asked for a jail sentence of 3.5 months, saying that her client has taken responsibility for what he did, sought therapy and has passed every drug and alcohol test he has had to take since his arrest.

Tangaro said her client normally does not drink a lot of alcohol, but did that night as the football season was ending and he was under stress coping with the recent death of a close friend.

“I wish I could take back that night,” Vaifo’ou told the judge. “I’m so very sorry for the harm I’ve caused.”

Vaifo’ou was suspended from the USU football team after his arrest. He had been a sophomore defensive end for the Aggies, after graduating from Highland High in Salt Lake City.