A Boulder County jury began deliberations Tuesday in the trial of Aidan Atkinson, who is accused of sexually assaulting and attempting to sexually assault two girls on a party bus in 2018.
Atkinson, 19, is charged with two counts of sexual assault, one count of attempted sexual assault and four counts of unlawful sexual contact, according to jury instructions read by Boulder District Judge Patrick Butler at Atkinson’s trial Tuesday.
Prosecutors said during closing arguments that Atkinson, at the time a star quarterback at Fairview High School, and a group of about 40 other students from both Fairview High and Boulder High rented a party bus to celebrate Fairview’s Homecoming in 2018.
Prosecutors said Atkinson then groped and attempted to digitally penetrate one girl against her will, then groped and digitally penetrated a second.
“Mr. Atkinson exploited the atmosphere on the bus,” Chief Trial Deputy District Attorney Catrina Weigel said. “He exploited the party atmosphere, he exploited the intoxication of these two girls, he exploited his popular status among those group of people.”
Weigel said the first girl was friends with Atkinson, and when she got drunk on the party bus she went over to him because she trusted him and was having trouble standing up and was not feeling well.
“Little did she know he would exploit that situation,” Weigel said.
Weigel said Atkinson groped the girl and put his hands under her dress, only being stopped from penetrating her when she was able to close her legs. Weigel said another girl on the bus thought something inappropriate was happening and told Atkinson to stop, and also said the named victim later asked friends to tell Atkinson to leave her alone.
That is when Weigel said Atkinson moved on to another girl who was described by witnesses as the most intoxicated person on the bus.
“Every single witness but one said she was not sober,” Weigel said, noting the one witness who did not describe her as intoxicated was Atkinson himself.
But in her closing arguments, defense attorney Lara Mars Baker reiterated her statements from opening arguments and said that “this case was simply not what it originally appeared to be.”
“We told you that this was a case about a high school gossip chain, an overreaching and flawed investigation, and in the words of (one of the victims) herself, a group of kids ‘all about drama,’” Baker said. “You heard that in this case.”
Baker pointed out that prosecutors only called female students on the bus as witnesses, and said that all of them had problems keeping their memories straight.
“The fact that it is repeated a number of times doesn’t make it more true,” Baker said, comparing the testimony of witnesses to “a game of telephone.”
“You have only heard from teenage girls in this case,” Baker said. “It should inform your sense of reasonable doubt in this case. (Prosecutors) were focused on what this group of girlfriends had to say.”
Baker said one of the named victims was making out with Atkinson but then only shunned him later in the night because she was more interested in his friend.
As for the other named victim, Baker referred to videos of the girl kissing Atkinson and “grinding” on him and giving him a “lap dance.”
“Is she unable to appraise the situation?” Baker said. “She’s engaged in the act.”
But in the final statements, Boulder Deputy District Attorney Michael Petrash urged the jurors to be wary of the snippets of video provided by the defense.
“Look at the evidence, not a snapshot,” Petrash said.
Following closing arguments, the jury was sent to begin deliberations by Butler. One alternate juror was excused, but will remain under jury instructions in case one of the other jurors has to drop out.
Earlier in the day, the testimonial portion of the trial ended with Atkinson taking the stand in his own defense. On direct examination by his attorney Gary Lozow, Atkinson said that while he was kissing, dancing and “grinding” with the two students, “I would say it was consensual.”
He also said did not touch them under their dresses or in any way for sexual gratification, though he said he did hold onto them while he received what Lozow referred to as a “lap dance.”
On cross examination, Atkinson said bruises on the girl’s legs may have been caused by the belt he was wearing while they were sitting on his lap.
In one video, Atkinson said he can be seen smacking one of the girls on her buttocks while she is facing him and away from the camera, but Atkinson agreed that people on the bus were “preening” for the camera.
He also said he did not believe either of the girls was overly intoxicated, though he acknowledged there was drinking on the bus.
As for allegations that he used his status as the star quarterback of the football team, Atkinson said, “I don’t think they looked at me as some god.”
While the Daily Camera does not typically name juvenile defendants, it is naming Atkinson because of the serious nature of the allegations and the fact that his initial arrest and charges were public record because he was 18 at the time.
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