The Supreme Court of Guam on Wednesday upheld the conviction of former University of Guam professor Michael Ehlert, who has been sentenced to two years behind bars for sexual assault on his two then-students.
“Ultimately, we find no merit to any of Ehlert’s complaints,” the court said in rejecting Ehlert’s appeal.
Claiming he was denied a fair trial, Ehlert challenged the sufficiency of evidence of force or coercion, the proper admission of evidence and proper instruction to the jury.
Ehlert was convicted of third degree criminal sexual conduct and attempted third degree criminal sexual conduct.
Michael Ehlert during his 2017 trial. Photo courtesy of PNC
The case stemmed from complaints filed by students, identified only through their initials H.R and F.R., regarding an incident that took place during a booze-filled beach party hosted by Ehlert at his house in Ipan, Talofofo for students in his psychology class in 2014. A similar complaint from another student surfaced later.
The court held that the evidence was sufficient to convict Ehlert. In an opinion authored by Justice Robert J. Torres and joined by Chief Justice Katherine A. Maraman and Justice F. Philip Carbullido, the court also determined that the evidence of past uncharged sexual misconduct was properly admitted under Guam rule of evidence because the misconduct was similar to the crime charged. Finally, the court concluded that the trial court properly instructed the jury on the included offense of attempted third degree criminal sexual conduct.
“The victims in this case were resilient throughout this process; they are truly courageous. With this decision, I can only hope it brings them some closure and aids in the healing process,” said Attorney General Leevin Taitano Camacho.
Court documents narrated the incident at the Talofofo beach party.
“It was dark. H.R. testified that, while in the ocean, Ehlert approached her from behind while she was sitting or crouching in the water, put his hand inside her bathing suit, and put his finger in her vagina. F.R. testified that, after realizing H.R. was ‘very drunk,’ earlier hearing Ehlert say he would ‘screw one of his students,’ she approached H.R. and Ehlert in the water and pulled H.R. away by the arm.
“F.R. then gave H.R. a piggyback ride toward shore. While she had H.R. on her back, a finger was placed up one of the leg holes on F.R.’s jean shorts. The finger ended up at the edge of F.R.’s vulva—between her anus and actual vaginal opening. The only people near F.R. at this time were H.R., who was on her back, and Ehlert,” court documents said.
Within three days following the report on the beach incident, the university learned of a similar incident from a different victim, who alleged that Ehlert “had touched her breasts and digitally penetrated her vagina.”
In affirming the former university professor’s 2017 conviction, the Supreme Court held that the evidence Ehlert "surprised" the victims was sufficient to support the element of “force or coercion.”
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