2009: Jeffrey Marsalis Speaks Publicly for First Time

After Philly trials, alleged serial rapist Jeffrey Marsalis faces Idaho jury.

July 13, 2009, 10:09 AM

July 15, 2009 -- This story originally aired on ABC News "20/20" on July 15, 2009. Tune in for an encore presentation of the Jeffrey Marsalis story on Friday, Aug. 30, 2013 at 10 p.m. ET

For years, through a score of accusations, multiple arrests and two criminal trials, Jeffrey Marsalis had stayed one step ahead of a rape conviction.

Twenty-one women in the Philadelphia area had accused him in incidents occurring between 2001 and 2005. Ten of those cases were prosecuted, in two separate trials.

Both times -- in January 2006 and June 2007 -- Marsalis, a former emergency medical technician who masqueraded as a trauma surgeon and sometimes as an astronaut, was found not guilty of rape, though he was convicted in the second trial on two lesser charges of sexual assault.

Then, in April 2009, Marsalis, 35, faced rape charges again, this time in Sun Valley, Idaho, where his family had long owned property.

A young woman, "Jody," had accused him of raping her in his apartment after the two went out drinking one night in October 2005. Jody had to wait more than three years for Marsalis' Philadelphia trials to wrap up before she would have her day in court.

And now, for the first time, after declining to testify in any of his trials and refusing to make any public statement, Marsalis would discuss the charges against him, in an interview with ABC News.

"Let me make something very, very clear to you," Marsalis said after the case's conclusion. "I have never drugged anybody. I have never raped anybody. I have never forced myself on anybody. Ever."

Multiple women were watching the Idaho trial with acute interest, including Jessika Rovell, with whom Marsalis had maintained a long-term relationship even as he allegedly perpetrated a string of date rapes, and a number of his alleged Philadelphia victims, whom he had met on the online dating site Match.com using an elaborate fake identity.

"Hopefully he'll be found guilty of everything this time," alleged victim "Natalie," a scientific researcher who was 28 when she met Marsalis, told ABC News in the runup to sentencing.

Several factors set the Idaho case apart from previous attempts to prosecute Marsalis. Jody had gone directly to a hospital and to police the day after the crime, as previous accusers had not. The prosecution was able to call a crucial witness.

Perhaps most damning of all was Marsalis' rambling, self-contradicting statement to Sun Valley police following his arrest.

"Ladies and gentleman, the defendant is accused of having sexual intercourse with a female who was unconscious due to an intoxicating substance," Idaho prosecutor Jim Thomas told the jury. "That is not consensual sex, it's rape."

The night she went out with Marsalis, Jody said, she had found strange granular matter in the bottom of a shot he bought for her. She passed out with strange suddenness, she said, and woke up in Marsalis' apartment knowing that she had had sex and that her clothes had been rearranged on her body.

And according to Jody, who was 21 at the time of the incident, the sex could not have been consensual, because she is a lesbian.

"Do you recall having any kind of discussion with the defendant about having any type of sexual contact?" Thomas asked Jody about the night at the bar.

She said she didn't.

"While you were out at the bar, um, were you flirtatious with him?" the prosecutor asked.

Again, her answer was no.

But the defense team -- which did not have to deal with the Philadelphia cases, because they had been ruled inadmissible in Idaho -- was ready to dig in.

Jeffrey Marsalis Defense Winds Up Again

Defense attorney Doug Nelson turned to the prosecution's own toxicology expert, who admitted there were no tests that proved Jody had been drugged.

And then there was the amount of alcohol. The defense team said Jody willingly drank beer after beer. A bar receipt showed that between the two of them, Marsalis and Jody bought 20 beers.

Marsalis' attorney asked the jurors to consider whether it was possible that Jody was so drunk she didn't remember wanting to have sex.

"Just because you can't remember, it doesn't mean that you were doing something against your will or non-consensually," Nelson said. "What it means is, you can't remember it."

Jody told ABC News she did not consider that possible.

"No," she said. "I don't believe I was conscious."

And Jody had an eyewitness to back up her story. Prosecutors called the taxi driver who took Marsalis and Jody back to his apartment.

Taxi driver Diedre Hamann testified that she had seen Marsalis escorting Jody toward his condominium complex.

"He had her up under her arm, and he was half-dragging her," Hamann said. "Her toes were pointed backward, her right leg toe was pointed backward, as he was walking her."

Finally, there was an audio tape of Sun Valley Assistant Police Chief Mike Crawford questioning Marsalis after Jody first called police.

At first, Marsalis said he never slept with her. "At no time was her clothes off," he told Crawford.

But then Crawford told Marsalis that they had tested for DNA, and that Jody had procured a rape kit.

Marsalis: 'I Just Shake My Head in Disbelief'

"If we find this out later through the DNA ... how's that going to look for you?" Crawford asked.

Then Marsalis' story began to change.

"I'm not going to rule out, you know, this, this and that at this time," he said on the tape.

When Crawford said he thought Marsalis had sex with Jody, the suspect started to hedge.

"I'm not going to confirm or deny what your statement is," Marsalis replied.

After the case, David Muir confronted Marsalis about all the allegations against him:

Muir: Authorities that I've spoken with have called you the worst date rapist in the nation's history.

Marsalis: I just shake my head in disbelief. I'm like, uh, you've gotta ... you've gotta be kidding me.

Muir: Who are you?

Marsalis: You want me to answer that question now? I am the guy that the girls kept on hanging out with. And that's the guy with a great personality. Uh, that's who I am.

Muir: At various times, you told women that you were a surgeon. Are you?

Marsalis: You know, based on legal advice, I can't ... there are certain areas that I just can't touch, and that's ... that's one of 'em.

Muir: Well, you can tell me whether you're a surgeon or not.

Marsalis: Uh, still, based on legal advice, I can't.

Muir: Are you an astronaut?

Marsalis: Once again, that's an area that I can't touch.

Muir: Did you lie in any way on your resume on Match.com?

Marsalis: I have to say that there were some discrepancies in ... in my profile. About 90 percent of these profiles and ... and getting to know these people, were multiple lies in their profile as well.

Muir: Matching the scope of yours?

Marsalis: There is a couple matching the scope of mine. ... But, you know, let's get over the profile. And eventually we're going to see me, as who I am, the character, the person who I am inside. Uh, the caring, the loving, the nurturing, the easygoing, the ... the great guy.

Marsalis pointed to what he called the inconsistencies and credibility issues with his accusers from Philadelphia and with Rovell, his long-term girlfriend, who has accused Marsalis of raping her but initally told authorities that she'd never been raped.

Marsalis said Rovell and many of the other women were upset and wanted attention and revenge for lies he had told.

"Jessika Rovell changed her story many times," Marsalis said. Of her date rape accusation, he said, "I have to almost laugh at that. It's a clear example of the depths that she'll go to just try to demean me, to just try to bash me."

Muir: When you look at the sheer number of women who have come forward with similar stories, can you see why the public would look at that and might have a hard time believing that there might not be at least an ounce of truth there?

Marsalis: I think the public needs to know how it started, and how they were interrogated. I believe these girls were manipulated. They want some sort of retribution because they think maybe they might have been duped. They think maybe that based on this picture that, uh ... that ...

Muir: That you created on the Internet.

Marsalis: ... that the detectives gave them, that they got to be angry. Now, if you're upset, OK. But does that justify you trying to seek retribution on felony criminal charges against me? Bulls***. It's that simple.

Marsalis: 'I Felt Cornered'

Muir: If that's the case, then how do you describe this woman who had no idea that this was even going on back in Philadelphia? This Idaho woman ... And yet, she came forward and said she'd been raped.

Marsalis: You know, I'm still ... tryin' to reflect a, uh, I can't explain it.

But what Marsalis did point to was that Jody, who claimed she told him she was a lesbian the night they went out, had been with men before. In fact, the prosecution never brought up her sexuality at trial.

"So the whole lesbian thing? Gone," Marsalis said.

And for all the women who said they had fallen victim to some sort of date rape drug, there were never any test results that proved that -- not even in the Idaho case.

Muir: Why did you tell police at first that there was no sex [with Jody]?

Marsalis: You know, at that time, I felt cornered. So, I took more of ... a ... a defensive stance...

Muir: A defensive stance, though, is one thing. A lotta people would look at this and say, that's a flat-out lie.

Marsalis: You have to understand that I was intoxicated, too. So there was a lot of gray areas in between. Did we have sex? Well, you know. How did this all happen?

Precisely the question the Idaho jury had to answer. After three-and-a-half years of waiting, Jody -- and all of Marsalis' other alleged victims -- finally had their verdict.

Marsalis was found guilty of rape.

On June 30, 2009, Marsalis was sentenced. The judge was allowed to consider his criminal history in Pennsylvania, and for the first -- and only -- time, Marsalis tried to sound apologetic.

"I take responsibility and leave my fate in your hands," he said to the judge.

Given his history in Pennsylvania, Marsalis was sentenced to life in prison in the Idaho State Penitentiary. In combination with his Pennsylvania sentence, the earliest he will be eligible for parole is 2031.

Afterward, Rovell thanked Jody.

"Thank you for coming forward and doing what you did," Rovell said. "I'm just so grateful. I'm just so grateful I can't even explain."

Jody said there was never any question in her mind about whether she would testify.

"I felt like I needed to follow through with it and at no point did I ever not want to," she said. "I don't think people that do these kinds of things to people should get away with it."

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