Judge denies bail reduction in university rape case

Defense says new information should be taken into account

Posted: Friday, February 26, 2010

A Superior Court judge on Thursday said new information brought to light in the case of a 21-year-old man accused of raping a female roommate in their co-ed University of Alaska Southeast campus apartment last month was not enough reason to reduce his bail.

Judge Trevor N. Stephens appointed a third-party custodian for Dominic Merrill, but said his bail should remain intact at $25,000 cash so it remains a deterrence to help protect the public.

Merrill pleaded not guilty earlier this month to five counts of felony sexual assault after being arrested on Jan. 28. He is accused of raping his female roommate in the early morning hours of Jan. 23 after they returned from an on-campus social gathering where alcohol was consumed.

District Attorney Doug Gardner argued against reducing the bail because of concerns for the public if Merrill is released from jail without a significant reason for him to follow the conditions of release.

"The assaults in this case are documented," he said. "There are pictures. There are internal injuries. The incident can only be described as a brutal and mean and degrading assault."

Defense attorney Michael O'Brien asked that Merrill's bail be reduced to a "more appropriate" figure somewhere in the neighborhood of $5,000 to $7,500 because new information has come to light.

"I think even the alleged victim in this case would not object to his release," O'Brien told the court. "The reason I say that is ... she called me on the phone about two or three days before the grand jury convened and asked me for help in getting the case dismissed."

A fellow roommate of Merrill and the victim was an "eyewitness" the evening of the alleged assault and has also come forward to dispute the charges, O'Brien told the court.

"He heard them come in that night," he said. "He was there in the morning when they were both present. He spoke with both of them, giving indication that there was no assault - not one, and not five - and that what happened was consensual."

Stephens said he took the new information into account but decided that it did not merit the reduction of bail.

"Regardless of what (the alleged victim) may have told Mr. O'Brien before the grand jury, it looks like she appeared and testified at the grand jury," he said. "The grand jury returned an indictment on five felony counts."

Stephens also mentioned search warrants obtained by investigators to record phone conversations between Merrill and the victim. During one recorded conversation, according to court records, Merrill told the victim, "I am sorry for hurting you in every way. I am sorry about the bites and bruises. I wish I could take it all back. I thought about flying home. I thought about locking myself away because I felt like a monster. When I drink a lot I black out. I promise nothing like this will happen again."

Stephens said the mutual roommate wasn't an actual eyewitness but rather saw them after the alleged assaults took place.

"I don't know if there is a set, established pattern or way in which people act after certain things have happened," he said. "It's not uncommon for women who have been sexually assaulted to not speak about it for some period of time and indeed that's what happened in this case."

If Merrill makes bail he is not allowed to consume alcohol, have any contact with the alleged victim, or be on the UAS campus, Stephens ruled.

O'Brien told the court that Merrill's relationship with UAS has been terminated.

Vice Chancellor of Student Services Bruce Gifford said he could not talk about Merrill's status at the university because of federal confidentiality requirements.

"The internal investigation is still in process," he said. "I can't comment on his status with the university. It has no relationship whatsoever with an internal investigation."

Merrill was being held in Lemon Creek Correctional Center as of press time.

• Contact reporter Eric Morrison at 523-2269 or eric.morrison@juneauempire.com.

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