After five days of deliberations, a Los Angeles jury Thursday convicted two men of drugging and sexually assaulting a series of women in what local authorities described as the largest case of “date rape” drug use in California.
The men were alleged to have assaulted the women over two years at a Lawndale warehouse that had been converted into a home and office by one of the defendants. That man, party disc jockey Steven Michael Hagemann, 38, was found guilty on 45 felony counts of rape and sexual assault on women who were drugged unconscious during a series of assaults that went on from September 1994 to last July. The number of convictions could lead to a prison sentence exceeding 100 years.
Hagemann’s former roommate, Danny Richard Bohannon, 39, was found guilty of far fewer charges but still faces a possible 25 years in prison.
Sentencing for both men is set for Aug. 5.
At a news conference after the verdicts were announced, Deputy Dist. Atty. Renee Korn described the case as both disturbing in its sweep and revolting in its details.
Indeed, as several of the 10 female victims in the case quietly listened to Korn’s remarks, the prosecutor recalled testimony during the 3 1/2-week trial on how the two men met the women--some of whom they had known for years--and drugged them, using a powerful, easy-to-manufacture depressant known as GHB, or gammahydroxybutyrate.
Once knocked out, the women were sexually assaulted and even photographed in non-consensual acts. “The pictures,” Korn said, were “revolting and explicit.”
The drug was so potent, she said, that “some of the women were still being assaulted when they woke up” long after they had been drugged.
In many of the cases, Korn said, the women were not only familiar with the defendants--one knew one or both of the men for about 15 years--but were accompanied by male friends. Six men also were drugged so they would not intervene to protect the women, authorities said.
And unlike most cases of sexual assault, Korn said, the victims in this case were not forced into acts at gunpoint or the threat of harm. “Here, the women were taken advantage of in a completely different manner,” she said. “They were deceived, they were befriended by these defendants first, and then deceived and tricked and given drinks they thought were alcohol.
“And most of the victims would wake up thinking nothing happened at all,” the prosecutor said. “A few of the victims woke up knowing something was desperately wrong. And it was those victims . . . [who] made police reports [launching] our investigation.”
One of the victims, who spoke briefly with reporters on condition that her identity be withheld, recalled how she was drinking with Hagemann at a Hermosa Beach bar one moment and then awoke in his home--nicknamed “the Compound"--the next morning, assured by him that “nothing had happened.”
“I don’t know how I got to Steve’s house,” she said. “I was at a bar with some friends, and one second I was talking to some people, and the next second I woke up.”
Although she worried that “something was wrong,” the woman recalled, she was persuaded to believe that she may only have had a hangover--especially after Hagemann’s reassurances.
But two weeks later, the woman said, she heard rumors among acquaintances that she had had sex with Hagemann the night she blacked out. And some time after that, when she heard about Hagemann’s arrest on television, she went to authorities, who were convinced that she was one of his victims.
“Once I found out what happened,” the soft-spoken woman told reporters, “I felt violated.”
During the course of the trial, attorneys for both men acknowledged that their clients had sex with the women but insisted that it was consensual. The sex, they said, occurred during wild, drug-filled parties that lasted throughout the night at Hagemann’s home, which doubled as an office for his party music company, Rollin’s Records.
While Hagemann’s attorney, Tony Cogliandro, could not be reached for comment Thursday, the lawyer for Bohannon said he was pleased that his client was acquitted on 18 of the 25 counts that he faced--charges that could have greatly lengthened his sentence.
“I am disappointed he was convicted, but I am happy that it was only on a few counts,” said attorney Peter Priamos. “He could have gone away for life.”
Despite the sordid nature of the case, Priamos said he believed the attention paid to it could serve as a warning to others about the dangers of the drug.
Generally described as odorless and tasteless, the drug has been blamed not only for sex-related crimes but serious health problems. In April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the drug was responsible for 69 cases of poisoning in New York and Texas. It also has been linked to breathing problems, seizures, coma and death--a Texas teenager died after being given the drug and a Georgia woman went into a coma after being given GHB.
“My argument was that if I could plead him guilty to anything, it was stupidity,” the attorney said. “He got pulled into this. This was all about sex and excess. . . . He admitted on the stand that he knew the other guy was drugging girls” and didn’t break away before he became implicated by authorities.
Priamos said the majority of counts on which his client was convicted involved conspiracy charges that included Hagemann. In the case of only one woman, the lawyer said, was Bohannon found guilty of sexual assault.
At the sentencing, Priamos added, his client will apologize for his role in the sexual assault case.
“He wants to do what’s right now,” the attorney said. “He really feels sincere about that.”