For the second time in as many years—after a mistrial was declared earlier this year—Steven Neff is back in front of a Santa Barbara jury, facing allegations that he would inject women with the high-powered drug Ketamine and then proceed to assault some of them sexually.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Ron Zonen told the jury during opening statements last Thursday, September 24, that Neff had a history of injecting women—including his girlfriend—with Ketamine.
The most gruesome allegation comes from a former co-worker of Neff’s. She said that in 2002 she was with Neff at his home, and after drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana with her, Neff injected something into her neck. She lost her ability to function, according to Zonen, but was in a state of “partial consciousness.” The former co-worker believes that Neff at one point inserted an enema into her and she lost control of her bowels. After that, according to the alleged victim, she felt him smearing something on her face and saw him smearing something on his face, and she believed it was her own excrement.
Though “very mindful something was wrong,” Zonen said, she couldn’t recall what had happened until days later, prompted by a dream. In his opening statements, defense attorney Michael Hanley seized primarily upon this alleged victim’s statements, suggesting she had taken a lot of drugs and alcohol, didn’t remember what happened, and was inconsistent in her reports to authorities about what had happened. He also was methodically combing through her testimony on the stand Wednesday.
Another of Neff’s accusers, now 27 years old and living in San Francisco, testified Thursday that she was running on Haskell’s Beach in Goleta one day in 2002, when she passed a man who was also running. A few minutes later, she said, she heard footsteps getting closer and closer, and eventually felt someone bear hug her from behind. Her first thought, she said, was that it was a friend, but she quickly realized it was not. She struggled with her attacker for a time, trying to hit him with a rock. All of a sudden, she felt a prick in her neck like she had been bitten by a bug. Her attacker released her eventually, and she started to run. She did not see anyone else on the beach. Suddenly, she testified, “It started to become difficult for me to run.” In her mind, she testified, she had the image of a syringe in her attacker’s hand, though she wasn’t sure that was the case. But, she said, she knew that “something is in my system, and something is happening.”
She then blacked out, she said, eventually coming to for small periods of time, but slipping back out of consciousness. Her memory of the next several hours is hazy at best. “I’ve been trying for years to remember things that happened that day,” she said.
Zonen, in his opening statement, said that Neff’s sperm would be found on the woman’s running pants, and a nurse testified Monday that the victim had abrasions on her genitalia. In court papers, Zonen argued there was “sufficient evidence of a strong suspicion that that the defendant achieved at least a slight penetration.” Ketamine would be found in her system via a urine test.
But on cross-examination, the woman said she never knew for sure if she had been sexually assaulted, and that no one had told her one way or another. She did wake up fully clothed, she said. “She had been reduced to a state of complete unconsciousness by a drug designed to bring down a horse,” Zonen wrote. “She would not have remembered surgery during that time, never mind vaginal penetration.”
Hanley said that the fact that the victim was “attacked very fiercely at the beach” by Neff was not in dispute. But, he said, nothing suggested that Neff, now 41, had penetrated—or attempted to penetrate—the victim. The irritation on her genitalia, he said, could be caused by numerous factors, including the large amounts of sand found in the victim’s clothes after the struggle. The evidence showed, he said, that clothing was not removed. Additionally, she knew what intercourse felt like but did not report feeling that, nor did she report feeling any pain.
In November 2008, a jury found Neff guilty on the same charges he is facing this time around related to these two alleged attacks, but only after new instructions were offered to the jury five days into their deliberations. Neff had been facing more serious felony charges of unlawful penetration with a foreign object, and the 12 couldn’t come to a conclusion. What hadn’t been explained to them was that they could still find him guilty of a lesser offense of attempted unlawful penetration. After hearing these instructions, it took the jury only a few hours to find Neff guilty of attempted unlawful penetration, with additional enhancements because syringes with Ketamine was used.
The new instructions, according to Zonen in court papers, were not offered prior to the commencement of deliberations because of the “mistaken belief that the lesser offenses were time-barred,” as the crimes were alleged to have been committed five years prior to trial. Hanley filed for a mistrial, arguing that the late instructions may have suggested to the jury that Judge Rick Brown had a desire to convict the defendant on those grounds.
Neff was also accused of two other attacks on women using Ketamine in 2002, one on East Beach and one in Mammoth. He was not prosecuted for those crimes, as the statute of limitations for the provable elements of the crimes had expired by the time he was connected to them. One of the reported attacks occurred In November 2002, in Mammoth: A woman was skiing on a quiet and mostly empty downhill run when she was knocked down by a snowboarder from behind. The man pinned her down, she told authorities, and she felt a prick and knew she had been injected. She screamed at the man, demanding to know what she had been poked with, and he said it was a Swiss Army wristwatch. But she saw a syringe in the snow, and screamed for help before passing out. According to reports, the victim nearly died of respiratory and cardiac failure because of the amount of Ketamine injected in her relative to her body weight. A glove left behind had DNA in it, but it wasn’t until 2006 that a match was made with Neff.
Neff also was arrested after a 2004 incident at Hendry’s Beach, where three teenage girls saw a man videotaping them. Eventually the man came up to one, grabbed her bikini bottom and ripped it down. Neff eventually pleaded no contest to resisting an officer and disorderly conduct for engaging in a lewd or dissolute act in public.
By Chris Meagher
October 1, 2009