Aspiring actor to be retried on previous rape and assault convictions

A Los Angeles County judge has ordered a new trial on the remaining sexual assault convictions against an aspiring actor after finding that his previous attorney — famed celebrity lawyer Robert Shapiro — provided ineffective counsel during his sexual assault trial.

The ruling means that prosecutors must now decide whether to retry Robert Aaron Stephens on some or all of the rape and assault counts on which he was previously convicted.

Jane Robison, a district attorney's spokeswoman, said prosecutors intend to retry Stephens, but she declined to specify which charges they will pursue.

A jury found Stephens guilty in 2013 of raping and drugging two women who told authorities that they accompanied him on separate nights out in Hollywood. The women, who did not know each other, each said they accepted a drink from him and quickly felt dazed after drinking it. Both women testified that Stephens sexually assaulted them at his apartment.

The case pitted two well-known celebrity attorneys against each other. Shapiro, a 72-year-old high-powered attorney, gained fame by representing O.J. Simpson as part the football star's "legal dream team." Stephens' new attorney, Mark Geragos, is well-known for representing such celebrities as Winona Ryder, Michael Jackson and Chris Brown.

At the center of the case was Shapiro's decision not to show jurors a video that Geragos argued contradicts the testimony of one of Stephens' accusers. The video, secretly recorded by Stephens, shows him and the woman engaging in consensual sex the night of the alleged attack, Geragos argued.

The woman in the video had testified that Stephens threw her onto his bed and forced himself on her as she tried to fight him off.

In an affidavit filed in court, Shapiro said he believed that the video would do more harm than good for Stephens' defense because the woman appeared "limp and dead" when Stephens carried her into the bedroom and at times she appeared to be trying to fight him off, which would have corroborated her testimony.

After viewing the video, L.A. County Superior Court Judge Craig J. Mitchell ruled that the recording refuted the woman's testimony "to such an extent that this court cannot understand why the video was not used" at trial by Shapiro, according to a court transcript.

In January, Mitchell granted a new trial on assault, rape and other charges involving the woman in the video. But the judge initially rejected Geragos' request for a new trial on the remaining rape and assault charges related to the second accuser.

Geragos argued that the two separate allegations were inextricably intertwined by the prosecution during the trial. The prosecution, he noted, argued that the women's combined testimony proved Stephens was a serial rapist who followed a behavioral pattern.

On July 30, Mitchell agreed, granting a motion for a new trial on the remaining charges.

Geragos said the video significantly weakens the prosecution's case against his client. "He has maintained that he's innocent since day one and has turned down numerous offers that would have let him be free," he said. "I think he will prevail."

Before his arrest, Stephens acted in about a dozen mostly uncredited television and film roles, according to the online movie database IMDB. He also was a lead actor in a 2007 horror film in which his character rapes and murders a woman at a party while recording the attack on a hidden camera.

Stephens is currently being held in lieu of $530,000 bail.

stephen.ceasar@latimes.com

Twitter: @sjceasar

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