By Diana Nguyen
On Tuesday — a trial took place in Marfa for an assault case. The defendant, a high-profile artist who lives part-time in Marfa — was found not guilty of the Class C Misdemeanor charge.
Marfa Public Radio’s Diana Nguyen was at the trial and talked to Carlos Morales about what unfolded.
MORALES: Diana, thanks for being here.
NGUYEN: Thanks for having me Carlos.
MORALES: So Diana, I want to first back up a little bit here. Who are the people involved in this case?
NGUYEN: The charges were technically brought by the State of Texas, but the person who filed the police report is Ryann Bosetti. She’s a hairdresser who splits her time between L.A., Marfa, Portland, and New York. And the defendant was Jeff Elrod — he also lives in Marfa part-time, and is a well-known artist. And this case has garnered some national attention from art publications and other national outlets. And I think that’s notable because in most cases like this, the individuals who file the reports in assault cases are not really outspoken — you know, these are sensitive topics people don’t really want to be brought up. But in Bosetti’s case, she wanted to talk.
MORALES: So Diana, what’s the actual incident here that sparked the trial?
NGUYEN: Basically, back in August of 2018, Elrod and Bosetti were having dinner and then they went to have a nightcap at the neighboring bar of this restaurant. They eventually left the bar and exited, which led to an alley. And it’s in this alley, where Elrod took out Bosetti’s breast from her shirt and put his mouth on it. Whether he asked or whether he just said he was going to do it isn’t really clear. And Bosetti says she did not give a verbal response to what was happening. And I just want to be clear here — the prosecution and the defense both agree and established this timeline of events — the defense was not denying that this incident took place.
MORALES: Okay. So what happened then following the alley?
NGUYEN: From the testimony and police report, Bosetti says she was in a sort of state of shock, and she walked to Elrod’s studio afterward. She stayed for 10 minutes or so and left after Elrod began touching her leg and then she went home.
MORALES: Okay. So Diana, again, all parties here agree that these events happened. So what was the real crux of this trial?
NGUYEN: The question at the trial was whether or not the prosecution could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person in Elrod’s case would perceive the touching to be offensive.
MORALES: So this isn’t about whether or not Bosetti gave explicit consent. This is more about whether or not Elrod believed that based on the dinner, the drinks, the types of conversation they had, that he could do this — that he could take her breast out in an alley without it being offensive.
NGUYEN: Right. So the prosecutor in this case was Sandy Stewart. And Elrod’s defense team was made up of Dick DeGuerin and Liz Rogers — full disclosure, Rogers is a board member at Marfa Public Radio.
So the prosecution really established this timeline we’ve been talking about, but there wasn’t enough to prove within that narrative that Elrod had any indication that his actions were clearly unwanted.
MORALES: And the defense really honed in on that aspect? That there wasn’t enough evidence there to prove that?
NGUYEN: Right. During DeGuerin’s cross-examination of Bosetti, he questioned her about what lead up to the incident. The two had been talking about their relationships with their respective partners, they had been drinking a lot, and you know, they made some kind of pact that if things did not work out with their partners they would maybe date later down the line. Whether that was a joke or not I’m not sure.
MORALES: And was there any other evidence brought forward?
NGUYEN: Yeah. There were texts she sent to a friend the next day. Bosetti was telling this person what took place, saying she “let him do this to her,” and she “felt like the devil.” And DeGuerin really harped on that word — “let” — but Bosetti explained that she meant she “let” Elrod do this by not having not spoken up or been more defensive at the moment of the actual incident.
MORALES: So Bosetti was saying it wasn’t “let” as in granting permission.
NGUYEN: Right. She said she was essentially blaming herself. And one of the last things DeGuerin said to Bossetti at the trial was something along the lines of, “Do you realize your claims here diminish the credible claims of other women?” And that statement was followed by an audible gasp in the gallery.
MORALES: So that was one of the last things that happened in the trial and Jeff Elrod was ultimately found not guilty.
NGUYEN: Yeah. And I want to be really clear — this is not relevant to this case — but in Texas, groping is not considered sexual assault. As of the most recent legislative session, a bill was passed that makes touching or exposing a person’s anus, breast, or genitals without consent a Class A misdemeanor. And that means those convicted could serve up to a year in jail and be fined up to $4,000. And that law will go into effect in September.
MORALES: Diana, Thanks for coming in today.
NGUYEN: Thanks for having me.
Editors Note: In an earlier version of this interview, Bosetti is incorrectly referred to as the plaintiff. The State of Texas brought the charge, and Bosetti was a witness in the trial.