Appeal of UW student's sex assault conviction possible after judge question

MADISON (WKOW) -- An appeal of the campus sex assault conviction of a suspended UW-Madison student is possible, after a Dane County judge questions the the jury's guilty verdict.

In addition to being found guilty earlier this month of second degree sexual assault with force in connection to a June 2016 incident at a downtown apartment building with another student, 22-year old Nathan Friar was acquitted of a strangulation charge.

During Friar's sentencing, Judge Josann Reynolds stated her trial notes and observations reveal the force required for the sex assault conviction, was the strangulation."In reviewing the nature of the conduct alleged here, the court is left uncertain as to the exact evidence of force the jury relied upon in reaching its verdict,"  Reynolds said.Assistant Dane County District Attorney Rachel Sattler asked for a sentence of seven years in prison for Friar.  Even Friar's attorney Brian Brophy referenced the possibility of a jail term as he argued for probation for Friar.Reynolds chose to give Friar no prison or jail, only a probation sentence of eight years.  She said the jury's questionable guilty verdict influenced her sentencing decision.

"I must, in determining the appropriate disposition, take into account that there is very little evidence in this record based on the jury's acquittal of the strangulation charge, as to the use of, or level of any purported force,"  Reynolds said.

"For Nathan Friar to walk away with only eight years of probation, I feel is kind of absurd,"  Friar's 22-year old victim tells 27 News.  27 News does not identify the victims of sexual assault.

Reynolds also cited several sex crime cases with sentences involving no incarceration; more than sixty letters of support for Friar;  and his lack of any previous, criminal history, as she explained her decision.

Friar and the victim had been socializing together at a campus area bar on the night of the sex assault.  Surveillance video from outside Friar's apartment complex showed Friar and the victim laughing and kissing at times.

But once the two people entered the apartment, the victim testified Friar became aggressive and forced her into sexual acts.

"There was definitely force,"  she tells 27 News.  "He was aggressive and violent."

Friar testified the sexual contact was consensual.  He testified marks on the victim's neck were the result of foreplay, "hickeys."

Reynolds said if strangulation did not take place, neither did the sexual assault.  "I cannot ignore my own observations of the evidence and my dissonance with the jury's verdict."

Attorney Cole Ruby is handling the potential appeal of Friar's conviction, and says the judge's remarks on the split verdicts contribute to the legal grounds to go forward.  "When the judge mentioned it herself, it reinforced the need to investigate and research that."

The victim declines to comment on the possibility of an appeal, other than to note her continuing, emotional trauma.

"I'm just hoping for a day when I don't think about what happened to me,"  she tells 27 News.

27 News contacted the jury foreman, and another juror, both of whom declined comment on Reynolds's view of their decision.  Two other jurors failed to respond to requests for comment from 27 News.  Sattler and District Attorney Ismael Ozanne also failed to respond to a request for comment.

A spokesperson for Reynolds contacted 27 News about her remarks from the bench.  "She does appreciate being given the opportunity to comment, but does politely decline to do so at this time,"  the spokesperson said.

"The jury unanimously decided,"  the victim tells 27 News.  "Her job's not to doubt the jury.""They heard all the evidence. They saw all the pictures, they heard all the testimony.  They know, and they got it right,"  the victim says.Once Ruby receives trial transcripts and other documents from the case, he will have sixty days in which to file any appeal on Friar's behalf.

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