Friday, July 3, 2009

Marsalis' father claims son unjustly vilified

Judge sentences convicted rapist to life in prison

Express Staff Writer

Jeffrey J. Marsalis

The woman Jeffrey J. Marsalis was convicted of raping in Sun Valley described him as a "monster." The Philadelphia Daily News called him a "serial sicko." The November 2008 issue of Self magazine used a doctored photograph of Marsalis that depicted him as half man and half wolf.

At a sentencing hearing Tuesday in Boise, Marsalis' father said his son is a former Florida paramedic who "saved a lot of lives." Forrest Marsalis, a 72-year-old retired airline pilot who lives in Phoenix, said Jeffrey Marsalis "is a good son who always wanted to help people" and was seeking a career in medicine.

A court in Pennsylvania has determined that Jeffrey Marsalis is a "violent sexual predator."

Whatever Jeffrey Marsalis might be, he's slated to spend at least the next 22 years of his life behind bars. It could be more. It could be the rest of his life, depending on whether or not he's ever granted parole.

Marsalis now has three felony sex-crime convictions, one in Idaho and two in Pennsylvania. He's been accused numerous times of having sex with women who were unconscious, either by alcohol or by a date-rape drug. Regardless of the convictions, Marsalis has never been found guilty of secretly administering date-rape drugs.

Forrest Marsalis told the Idaho Mountain Express on Thursday that his son has been unfairly vilified by the news media and unjustly prosecuted by the legal system.

Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney Jim Thomas disagreed.

"We're not the ones who found him guilty," Thomas said Thursday. "The jury was."

Consecutive Sentence

Fifth District Court Senior Judge Daniel Hurlbutt Jr. on Tuesday sentenced Marsalis to life in prison, with 15 years to be served before parole eligibility. Sentencing followed a jury trial in April in Boise, at which Marsalis was found guilty of raping a 21-year-old woman at his condominium in Sun Valley. The jury determined that the woman was incapacitated when Marsalis had sexual intercourse with her the evening of Oct. 9, 2005.

The trial was moved to Boise because of pretrial publicity in Blaine County.

Hurlbutt further ordered that the sentence be served consecutive to a prison sentence Marsalis is already serving in Pennsylvania. In legal terms, consecutive means that one sentence must be served before the other one starts.

Marsalis was convicted by a jury in Philadelphia in 2007 of two felony counts of sexual assault and one misdemeanor count of unlawful restraint. He was sentenced there to 21 years in prison, with 10.5 years to be served before parole eligibility. He has thus far, counting actual prison time and time spent incarcerated before his convictions, served about 3.5 years.

Hailey attorney Douglas Nelson, who defended Marsalis on the Blaine County charge, explained to the Express that under Idaho case law Marsalis will be required to serve the fixed portion of his Pennsylvania sentence before the fixed portion of his Idaho sentence starts.

"His fixed term in Idaho starts the minute his fixed term ends in Pennsylvania," Nelson said.

Case closure

Tuesday's sentencing brings an end to a case that has lingered for almost four years with Mike Crawford, the lead investigator who is now Sun Valley's assistant police chief.

"I wasn't shocked or surprised by the sentence," Crawford said Wednesday. "That's what we were definitely hoping for. I do feel a sense of satisfaction and justice. It's always been on the plate for some three and a half years plus."

Crawford said prosecution of the case would likely not have been possible without the determination of the victim, who is now 25 and lives in Colorado.

"She stayed the course," Crawford said. "It took a lot of guts for her to stay with it, and we're glad she did."

Although Marsalis has been convicted of sex crimes against only three women, Thomas said investigation in Philadelphia found some 30 women who made allegations of rape against him. Some of them declined to pursue charges, while Marsalis was acquitted of charges against some of the alleged victims.

"The sheer number of women who have made these allegations against him has to make me think that he's dangerous," Thomas said. "He uses a lot of elaborate props to get these women into a position of having sexual intercourse."

Testimony in Philadelphia indicated that Marsalis sometimes told alleged victims that he was a CIA agent, a trauma surgeon or an astronaut. Testimony further indicated that Marsalis is a tall, attractive man who is a smooth talker.

Thomas said that Marsalis often had the opportunity for consensual sex with the women, but that "he prefers his victims be unconscious."

"I think it's a domination and control thing with him," Thomas said.

Forrest Marsalis maintains that sex was consensual in the Sun Valley case and that the jury in Philadelphia was tainted by biased news media accounts.

"It should have been a mistrial," he said. "What really happened, I don't think really came out. Where's the justice here, for God's sake.

"I bet he never will get paroled," he said. "But it's done and over with and anything I say now isn't worth a damn."

Terry Smith:

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