1004404434 SeanGeoffreyMyers.jpg
Sean Geoffrey Myers

Judge doesn't buy combat vet's 'moral injury' defense for sodomizing drugged woman

A veteran was sentenced this week to eight years and three months in prison for sodomizing an incapacitated woman — despite his defense attorney’s pleas for leniency on the grounds that the veteran’s horrific combat experiences damaged his moral reasoning.

Sean Geoffrey Myers, 49, of Talent will get credit toward his sentence for the almost three years he’s spent in the Jackson County Jail awaiting the outcome of his case.

In March, a jury found Myers guilty of first-degree sodomy, first-degree sexual abuse, three counts of first-degree burglary and invasion of personal privacy.

His sentencing was delayed until this week so his defense attorney could have psychological, sociological and psychosexual evaluations performed on Myers by three experts.

On March 10, 2015, Myers and the victim were an estranged couple when he came over to have a discussion with her on her porch. He brought port for the two to drink and poured the alcohol into two different types of glasses, according to court testimony.

The prosecution argued Myers put Ambien in the woman’s glass.

Both alcohol and Ambien have sedative effects that can be enhanced when the two are ingested together, according to American Addiction Centers.

After drinking the port, the woman began to feel ill and went to bed. The jury agreed with the prosecution’s argument that Myers anally sodomized her while she was incapacitated and took photos of her genitals. Although the woman had no memory of what happened, Myers’ semen was discovered during a forensic exam at a hospital and graphic photos were found on cellphones.

The jury did not find Myers guilty of causing the woman to ingest Ambien.

However, Jackson County Circuit Judge Lisa Greif, who presided over the March trial and the sentencing hearing this week, said a majority of jurors wanted to speak with her after the trial.

The jurors told Greif they believed Myers had drugged the woman, they just weren’t sure he did it for the purpose of sodomizing her.

An indictment detailing the charge on which Myers was found not guilty accused him of causing the woman to ingest a controlled substance with the intent to commit a violent crime.

The jurors thought Myers might have realized after administering the Ambien he had the opportunity to sodomize the woman, Greif said.

“But they absolutely believed he drugged her,” she said this week during Myers’ sentencing hearing.

According to evidence and court testimony, the victim’s urine tested positive for Ambien. Myers’ roommate was missing a container of the sedative and Myers had texted a friend and done a Google search about Ambien.

Greif said she wasn’t swayed by defense attorney Howard Grooters’ argument that the court should not impose a lengthy sentence because of Myers’ combat veteran status.

“Frankly, it doesn’t change my mind about Mr. Myers,” she said.

Shortly before the Tuesday sentencing hearing, Grooters submitted his own written argument for leniency — plus lengthy sociological and psychological reports from expert witnesses about Myers.

In one, sociologist and criminologist William Brown argued Myers’ combat experiences in Afghanistan caused him to suffer moral injury, known informally as a “broken moral compass.”

“Mr. Myers is a casualty of war,” Brown wrote in his report.

Complicating Myers’ situation, he was indicted this week on a new charge of first-degree sexual abuse for allegedly touching the breast of a girl under age 14 in 2015.

Myers entered a not guilty plea to the new charge on Tuesday. Greif set his bail at $1 million and recused herself from presiding over the new case, citing her involvement in the trial involving the woman.

“What was presented was pretty awful,” Greif said.

Moral injury

Brown wrote that moral injury occurs when people violate their own core moral beliefs. People who suffer moral injury become less able to distinguish right from wrong.

Modern warfare makes it particularly difficult to determine the correct, moral thing to do — especially in an era of threats from civilians, enemy combatants who can’t be readily distinguished from civilians and improvised explosive devices, Brown wrote.

Additionally, the rules of warfare and survival differ from the rules of civilian life, his report said.

Soldiers may end up killing civilians, including children, as well as enemy combatants, Brown wrote.

Forensic psychologist Robert Stanulis wrote in his report the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs now recognizes moral injury as an issue and has set up specialized treatment programs at some facilities.

In addition to having combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder, Myers clearly suffers from moral injury, Stanulis wrote.

While deployed as a Marine in the Middle East, Myers was a dog handler in charge of detecting improvised explosive devices, such as roadside bombs. After serving almost six years in the military, he had multiple deployments with private security contractors and continued his work detecting explosives, according to Brown’s report.

During combat, Myers was in situations where he took part in the killing of enemy combatants as well as civilians, Brown’s report said.

Among other traumatic events, Myers was near a buddy who was hit, saw dead and seriously injured Americans and Canadians, was ambushed, saw and handled dead bodies and human remains, saw wounded civilians without being able to help them and saved the life of at least one civilian, the report said.

Brown wrote, “Sean said that some of the things he and others were involved in during his Afghanistan deployment were horrific beyond imagination. He said that he was not a monster, but that warfare was, in many instances monstrous. Sean said that the killing of other human beings leaves a mark on one’s spirit. He said that something inside him turned off and that he had to shut down so that he could continue to be effective.”

Myers’ physical injuries while in the Middle East included head injuries, a back injury and hearing damage, according to the experts’ reports.

After leaving the military, Myers felt sad and angry and missed the camaraderie of the Marines. He also was troubled by civilians who asked intrusive questions about whether he had killed anybody. He viewed most civilians as uncaring, lazy, selfish, ignorant and apathetic about the wars in the Middle East, Brown’s report said.

His post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms included feeling hyper-vigilant or numb and feeling distressed when exposed to loud or sudden noises, the sound of children yelling or crying and anniversaries of traumatic events, the report said.

Myers was plagued by recurrent dreams about children being wounded and killed, as well as dreams about a friend who was horribly blown up, the report said.

Brown urged that Myers not be sent to prison, citing his lack of a criminal history and sacrifices in Afghanistan.

A new trial?

During the contentious sentencing hearing on Tuesday, Jackson County Deputy District Attorney David Orr, who prosecuted the case, took issue with a written report by psychologist and sex offender treatment provider Kevin McGovern.

In his report, McGovern said, “It is important to note that Mr. Myers does not have a known history of engaging in aberrant or illegal sexual behaviors.”

McGovern cited a 2005 study that said sexual recidivism is associated with deviant sexual interests, antisocial attitudes and lifestyle instability.

“The probability of his re-offending remains extremely low, close to zero,” McGovern wrote.

Orr said he received the lengthy reports by the defense’s experts only on Monday.

Judge Greif also faulted the defense attorney for providing the reports so late.

Orr said as soon as he read the portion of the report citing Myers’ lack of aberrant sexual behaviors, he remembered listening to a portion of a recorded phone call Myers made from jail in which Myers expressed an aberrant sexual interest. Inmates are warned that their phone calls are recorded and monitored.

Orr said he went back and listened to the recording — which was just one of hundreds of hours of Myers’ recorded calls.

Orr said he was prepared to play the recorded call in the courtroom during Tuesday’s sentencing hearing to rebut any claim that Myers didn’t have aberrant sexual interests. Orr offered not to play the call in exchange for the defense attorney withdrawing the psychosexual evaluation report, which he called highly misleading.

“I do not want to play this evidence in court,” Orr said.

Grooters, the defense attorney, accused Orr of withholding evidence that should have been disclosed to the defense.

“The state could have provided this information to us long ago,” Grooters said.

Grooters said he would file a motion for a new trial and accused Orr of a Brady violation.

The Brady Rule, named after a 1963 Brady v. Maryland case, requires prosecutors to turn over information to the defense if the information helps prove the defendant is not guilty, could reduce a potential sentence or addresses the credibility of a witness, according to Cornell Law School.

In other words, the information must be favorable from the accused’s perspective.

Orr said the jail recording was negative for Myers.

“He definitely would not want this information released,” Orr said.

Grooters argued it didn’t matter that the jail recording might paint his client in a negative light. He said knowing about the jail call would have helped him better evaluate how vulnerable his client was to conviction.

Orr is a candidate for Jackson County circuit judge in the upcoming November election.

Greif said she tended to side with Orr on the issue and didn’t think he had violated rules about the sharing of evidence.

In an interview later, Orr said he didn’t turn over the jail recording because he never could have used it during the trial.

He said the recording would have prejudiced the jury against Myers.

Orr said using the recording during the trial could have been grounds for a reversible error on his part, meaning the conviction could be overturned on appeal.

During the course of the prosecution, Orr said he didn’t have time to listen to all the hours of recorded jail calls, but would occasionally listen to pieces. He was especially watching out for any discussion of the crime or any intimidation or influencing of witnesses by Myers.

Orr said it’s not uncommon for jail inmates to have sexual conversations over the phone.

Orr said he remembered hearing Myers express an aberrant sexual interest during a call, but only went back and listened to the whole conversation after getting the psychosexual report on Monday.

“I went back and found it. It was very, very contradictory to the information that he didn’t have aberrant sexual interests,” Orr said.

Orr declined to discuss the contents of the phone call on the record or provide a copy of the phone call.

The Mail Tribune filed a public records request for the jail call recording, but its request was denied after a review by jail and legal department officials with Jackson County.

Lt. Josh Aldrich, jail commander, said in an email a decision was made to deny the public records request based on a privacy exemption in Oregon law that the information “would constitute an unreasonable invasion of privacy.”

Victim haunted

Although the victim in the case doesn’t remember what happened to her, Orr said not knowing is one of the most troubling aspects of the case for her.

“This haunts her,” Orr said during the sentencing hearing.

Forensic evidence showed she was sodomized and cellphone photos reveal she was photographed, but Orr said she’ll never know the extent of what was done to her.

He said Myers violated her sense of security.

“That was the place she was supposed to feel safe — in her home,” Orr said.

Orr said the victim wanted Myers to receive a longer prison sentence than he received and she continues to live in fear of what could happen upon his release.

“He’s a person who makes plans and executes them,” Orr said.

As part of his defense during the trial, Myers claimed he and the woman both got drunk and he didn’t want to drive home intoxicated. He claimed she allowed him in the house, where he took a shower, masturbated, put on his clothes and then snuggled with her in a spooning position while she slept, which might have caused the transfer of semen.

Myers admitted to taking photos of the woman’s genitals.

Speaking during his sentencing, Myers said he’s sure the woman is afraid, humiliated and angry.

“Mr. Orr stated I had no remorse and that isn’t true,” Myers said.

Myers said he was distant and feels he failed in his relationship with her.

He said he has become a burden to his whole family and feels he failed as a father to his three daughters.

“I do feel remorse for this,” Myers said.

Greif said what happened to the victim was horrible. She said the jury made the right decision in finding Myers guilty.

“I don’t know what was going through your head at the time you did these things,” she told Myers.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.

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