On Friday, minutes after Perrish Cox learned a jury found him not guilty of two sexual assault charges, he tweeted the following: "Harvey stienberg is the greatest lawyer on earth, hands down, there is no other better as i recall, all else is obselete!!"
Cox is overstating his representation's prowess, but he owes a debt of gratitude to Steinberg, Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and the doubt they created at the trial.
Scanning Cox's Twitter account will give one a good idea of how the trial played out. Missing is the "I'm grateful my innocence was proven" tweet, but he thanked his lawyer right after he thanked the lord.
Cox is a free man because no one, not even the alleged victim, seems to know exactly what happened early on September 6, 2010. The one person who might know, Cox, surely wasn't willing to talk about it.
The evidence seemed damning: Thomas, the alleged victim and Carthy Che, who Cox was dating at the time of the incident, testified that the four had gone out to a club on September 5 before returning to Cox's apartment. The alleged victim then fooled around with Thomas before passing out or falling asleep on an air mattress.
She woke up later feeling as if she'd had sex but didn't remember doing so. She later found out she was pregnant and DNA evidence showed Cox was the father, and that she became pregnant the weekend she believes Cox raped her while she was passed out.
The prosecution based its case on this evidence, and for the first couple days of the trial it seemed that would be enough to send Cox to prison. The alleged victim was apparently caught off-guard by the verdict. After the verdict was read, she reportedly cried out, "Why did this happen to me?"
If she was asking about the not-guilty verdict, the answer lies in Thomas's testimony and Steinberg's ability to use it to paint the alleged victim as a party girl and cast doubt on her version of how the night played out. Even though Thomas was called to the stand as a witness for the prosecution, he proved to be the defense's most valuable asset.
Immediately after Thomas spoke, the Denver Post described his testimony as "scathing," likely because he portrayed Cox dragging the passed-out woman from the inflatable mattress into his bedroom and telling Thomas, "I think she's ready," implying Thomas should have sex with her.
While Thomas's words certainly won't help Cox win a Civilian of the Year award, they did little damaging in the court of law. Indeed, many details he revealed, including some neither the prosecution nor the defense seemed to expect, helped alter the trial.
Thomas testified that in practice after that night, defensive back Cassius Vaughn, who was Cox's roommate at the time of the incident, told Thomas that when he left early that morning, he missed some "girl on girl action" between the alleged victim and Che.
At a preliminary trial, a judge had ruled that this detail was inadmissible in trial under rape-shield laws, because a jury is not supposed to consider a rape victim's sexual history. But the Denver Post's Mike Klis reports that Thomas brought it up because a prosecuting attorney asked him why he had repeatedly texted the alleged victim the day after the incident. Thomas said it was because of what Vaughn had told him.
The accuser and Che's alleged sexual interaction, once barred from the trial, now helped Steinberg imply more happened that night than the alleged victim reported or was aware of. The alleged victim didn't help her case by reportedly deleting several text messages from Thomas discussing the alleged "girl on girl action."
Reasonable doubt that Cox did not rape the woman was all he needed to go free, and it seems Steinberg built a mountain of it out of this detail. He was then able to portray the alleged victim as a functional drinker capable of interacting with others while intoxicated without remembering it. The alleged victim also testified that she wouldn't have considered it rape if she had learned the following day she had sex with Thomas. She was willing to unknowingly have sex with him, but not Cox.
Thomas testified that the alleged victim may not have passed out, but simply fell asleep. She was also unable to be tested for date-rape drugs she believes she was given because she waited too long to visit a doctor and was never given a date-rape kit.
The prosecution's entire case hinged on the science, which was enough to show that Cox lied about having sex with the alleged victim, and possibly to convict him in the public eye. But as Steinberg said, Cox was not on trial for lying.
Steinberg wasn't trying to prove Cox is a good person or even that he didn't have sex with a woman who was not her normal self. He was simply creating reasonable doubt that Cox sexually assaulted a woman incapable of appraising her own condition.
Criminal court places the burden on the prosecution to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the accused is guilty. The alleged victim might have more luck in a civil trial, where she would only have to prove that it is more likely than not that Cox committed sexual assault.
This may be a prime case where legal technicalities don't match popular opinion. Most comment sections for articles about this trial express contempt for Cox, many with the familiar distaste for a "rich athlete with a good lawyer getting off."
In reality, Cox is an unemployed football player cut a year into his rookie contract. He's free today because a jury wasn't comfortable saying the prosecution proved its case beyond reasonable doubt. While no jurors spoke to why they came to this verdict, they likely reached the conclusion because Thomas called several audibles while on the stand, which Steinberg was able to react to while the prosecution was left flat-footed.
More from our Sports archive: "Denver Bronco Perrish Cox fathered the child of his alleged rape victim, according to affidavit."
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