They were six women who had never met each other, but told a jury strikingly similar stories three years ago of being sexually assaulted by former Utah State University football player Torrey Green.
Now, Green is arguing that the jury never should have heard from all six women over his 10-day trial — and he’s asking the Utah Supreme Court to step in and grant him a new trial.
The state’s highest court heard arguments Wednesday on this issue and others as Green’s appellate attorneys contended that the former athlete’s trial was unfair.
Green has been serving a 26-years-to-life prison sentence since a jury in 2019 convicted him of eight charges in connection with reports from six women who say he sexually abused them between 2013 and 2015, when he was a student in Logan.
These are the questions that are central to his appeal.
Should a judge have allowed the jury to hear testimony from all six women?
This was the main issue argued Wednesday in court, where the justices peppered the attorneys with questions for more than two hours.
Prior to Green’s trial in 2019, a northern Utah judge had ruled that six of the seven women who accused the former athlete had allegations with enough similarities that he allowed them to testify in each other’s trials. The alleged seventh victim’s case is still pending.
First District Judge Brian Cannell noted several similarities among their allegations in his ruling before the trial: Four of the alleged victims said they met Green on the dating app Tinder. Six testified that they were assaulted during their first time alone with the defendant in his apartment.
Five women reported that Green put on a movie before the alleged assault. And five said Green had told each of them “she would enjoy it.” All, the judge wrote, said they verbally and physically communicated with Green that they did not consent.
Prosecutors wanted jurors to hear that testimony in an effort to show that Green was a serial rapist and to counter his defense that sex was consensual and the women fabricated their allegations. After the judge made that ruling, Green’s trial attorney asked for the six cases to be consolidated into a single trial.
Green’s appellate attorney, Freya Johnson, argued Wednesday that the judge’s ruling and the subsequent consolidation request were errors. She said in the appeal that many of the women’s recollections lacked independence, because they did not report to police until after The Salt Lake Tribune published an investigative report in 2016 about four women who had told police that Green had raped them. At that time, no action had been taken.
“Whether or not the women knew each other was irrelevant,” the appeal reads, “because they knew about the others’ allegations either from speaking with another student or from reading the Tribune articles before coming forward with detailed accusations.”
Attorneys for the state argued in response that the womens’ reports were independent, noting that two of the victims were interviewed for the original Tribune article and the others had other evidence that showed they told other people or documented their rape allegation long before the newspaper article was published.
Utah Assistant Solicitor General David Simpson argued Wednesday that it was fair for the jury to hear from all six women with such similar allegations to disprove Green’s defense that the women were lying.
“The story that the state presented is fundamentally true,” he said. “Six women accused Green of sexual assault in a way that would be extraordinarily difficult for [them] to fabricate.”
Was it wrong for jurors to hear from the victims’ friends and families?
Because some of the women did not report to police until after The Tribune published its investigative report, prosecutors called several friends or family members of each victim to testify about times when she told them Green assaulted her.
This was an effort to show independence from one another — that despite not reporting to police until later, victims had told those closest to them that they were raped. Prosecutors also showed jurors a poem and a college essay written by two of the victims describing being sexually assaulted that were authored years before The Tribune’s article. Attorneys on both sides also agreed to show jurors a summary of The Tribune’s coverage of Green’s case.
Green’s appellate attorneys argue that this was all “hearsay” evidence, which should have never been allowed at the trial and harmed his case. Johnson argued that the cumulative and repeated testimony inappropriately bolstered the victims’ accounts, compared to her client. And, she argued, Green’s trial attorney should have objected to it.
Lawyers with the attorney general’s office argued that the conversations and materials were important for the jury to consider, to rebut Green’s defense that the women were motivated to make up allegations after seeing The Tribune article because they were upset with him for not wanting a second date or wanted money from him. Green had signed a contract to play with the Atlanta Falcons, but was cut from the team shortly after The Tribune article was published in 2016.
Simpson argued Wednesday that it was “entirely fair” for this evidence to be allowed in the trial, given Green’s assertion that the women made up their allegations after reading The Tribune.
Did prosecutors make “improper” racial remarks?
Green is Black, and all of his victims were white.
His appellate attorneys argue that prosecutors at trial made statements that evoked racial stereotypes implying that Black men are “animalistic” and “sexually unrestrained.”
They argue in his appeal that prosecutors painted the women as young and naive, while he was portrayed as a large, dangerous predator preying on young women. He was in his early 20s, his attorneys note, while most of the women were 18 or 19.
It was inappropriate, Green’s attorneys argued, for Deputy Cache County Attorney Spencer Walsh to tell jurors in his closing arguments that Green was a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” and to refer to his apartment where the sexual assaults occurred as his “lair.”
“With its theme, the state appealed to racial prejudice and emotion because it evoked stereotypical fears of Black men preying on young, white women,” the appeal reads.
Lawyers with the attorney general’s office argue that Green is attempting to spin race-neutral statements into improper stereotypes. The reference to a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” is a well-known Biblical idiom, they argue, that they wrote “aptly” describes Greens’ approach: “He would turn on his charm and talk about his mother to lure victims back to his apartment, then attack the first time they were alone.”
This was not a point that was discussed in Wednesday’s oral arguments.
Did prosecutors engage in other misconduct?
Green’s appellate attorneys also argued that the prosecutor “frequently disparaged” the man’s trial attorney in closing arguments, implying that she deliberately misled the jury and asked difficult questions of the victims in an effort to embarrass and humiliate them.
Walsh told jurors that the defense was “throwing whatever they can think at the wall and see if it sticks” and called their arguments “utter nonsense.” He also told jurors that Green himself had misled the jury during his testimony, in which he denied raping the victims and said either sex had been consensual or did not happen.
“In a case that depended heavily on the credibility of the women,” Green’s appeal reads, “the prosecutor’s improper remarks harmed Torrey’s credibility and damaged his credibility before the jury.”
State attorneys argued in response that the prosecutor was not disparaging Green’s trial attorney, but instead made an argument about how the jury should interpret the evidence — which is the point of a closing argument.
Justices did not ask questions about this on Wednesday, and neither attorney addressed it in their argument.