County drops student date rape charge

By Kimberly Miller

Arizona Summer Wildcat

The case being heralded as the first UA date rape case to be prosecuted in 10 years ended in a dismissal last month when the defendant was allowed to plead guilty to a separate misdem eanor charge.

The plea agreement, struck between UA undeclared sophomore Peter Michael James,19, and the Pima County Attorney's office dismissed the sexual assault against James when he plead guilty to a misdemeanor possession of marijuana charge. James was sentenced by Pima County Superior Court Judge Deborah Bernini May 12, 1995 to one year unsupervised probation and ordered to pay a fine of $1,177.

James' dismissal on the sexual assault charges raises questions as to the progress and treatment of the Peter Pisciotta date rape case which was recently, as in James' case, sent back to the grand jury for review.

When the indictments against James and another UA student for sexual assault were initially handed down, Assistant UA Police Chief Harry Hueston said he felt encouraged and hoped this would begin a trend of prosecuting these types of cases. Now, he says he's not sure what to think.

"We have this system that is deemed the best in the world that we have to work with but I don't know how to deal with this failure," Hueston said. "We just have to keep hoping that the system is going to work."

James was indicted and formally charged in January with sexually assaulting a female student after a football game in November. The victim said the assault occurred at the Delta Tau Delta fraternity house, 1550 N. Vine Ave., where James was a member.

The grand jury indicted James on a 7 to 6 vote that led James' lawyer, Stanton Bloom, to call for a remand on the grounds of what he said was poorly presented evidence.

The remand was granted in March but the case was dismissed before it ever reached its second grand jury trial.

Bloom has alleged throughout that pressures on the Pima County Attorney's office pushed James' case to prosecution with insufficient evidence.

"I think there has been a lot of pressure from the {Wildcat} and UAPD to prosecute date rape cases," Bloom said. "But if they're trying to make an example out of this case they're hurting the cause more than helping it."

Pisciotta's lawyer, Stephen M. Weiss, said although he believes Pisciotta has a strong case for his innocence, James' dismissal will put even more pressure on the Pima County Attorney's office to prosecute.

"The case against Peter is not strong at all," Weiss said. "The evidence shows that sex was consensual but there was pressure to begin with to prosecute. And almost by definition this will place more pressure on my case."

Pisciotta, a 21-year-old business, public administration and criminology major at the UA, was indicted in a unanimous vote in February on a charge of sexually assaulting a 20-year-old female student during a Halloween party at the former Delta Chi fraternity house, 1701 E. First St.

Pisciotta pled not guilty to the charge claiming the victim, although drunk, was coherent and the initiator in the intercourse.

However, transcripts of Grand Jury testimony from a UAPD detective and witnesses who saw the victim before and after the assault said she was initially with another fraternity member who let her lie down in his room when she began to get sick from consuming too much alcohol. He said when he left her she was unconscious.

According to what the victim told detectives she awoke once and realized someone was having sex with her but either passed out again or "withdrew into herself."

After the incident she went to the president of Delta Chi and said she believed the man who had sex with her was the one whose room she was in. But investigations indicated it was Pisciotta and testimony by the man initially accused said Pisciotta had told him that morning that he had "gotten together" with the victim and that during intercourse she had repeatedly said the other man's name.

The decision by Superior Court Judge Richard Nichols to remand the case back to the Grand Jury was made on the basis of a statement the victim allegedly made to a fraternity member who helped her get to the president's room. Weiss believes the statement, which mentions how the victim's sorority sisters will feel about her having sex with the defendent, proves that her motivation in pressing charges is convoluted.

It is now up to the Pima County Attorney's office to schedule another grand jury date. If another indictment is handed down and Pisciotta's case goes to trial it will be the first UA date rape case since 1985 to reach the prosecution stage.

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