PROVO — An Illinois man accused of having a sexual relationship with a teenager was found guilty Friday of forcible sexual abuse.
But a jury could not decide whether to convict Eric Matthew Ray, 30, on two counts of forcible sodomy, a first-degree felony, and found him not guilty of object rape, all first-degree felonies. The jury's verdict came on the fifth day of trial and after approximately nine hours of deliberation.
"We're very pleased in the jury's verdict, that they were able to believe our victim's version of events," Utah County prosecutor Craig Johnson said.
Defense attorney Ed Brass said he and co-counsel Kim Cordova "respectfully disagree" with the verdict.
"We think we had a very good, conscientious jury that paid attention to the evidence," Brass said. "We tried a good case. It was just that on one particular point, they disagreed with us."
Ray, then a University of Illinois law student, was accused of sparking a relationship with a 15-year-old Utah County girl that began with questions about politics sent via Facebook and text messaging and led to the man telling the girl that he loved her and would leave his wife for her, according to the girl.
Ray apparently communicated with the girl for 14 months before he traveled to Utah to meet the girl in March 2010. Brass said it was undisputed in court testimony that Ray came out at the girl's urging.
The girl testified at a previous hearing that Ray took her back to his hotel room, where he fondled her and asked her to have sex with him. He met her at her school, and on at least two days took her directly to his hotel room in Provo where they kissed and he fondled her, according to court documents.
"He said he would go as far as he could go without getting in trouble," the girl said at the time.
The two spent an entire day in the room, which the girl said Ray had decorated with flower petals and candles. They watched the movie "New Moon" together, and the girl said she and Ray engaged in sex acts. The two also exchanged T-shirts they had decided to wear to bed every night for a month so the shirts would smell like them, she said.
When the teenager was later hospitalized with meningitis, her family intercepted several texts sent to the girl's phone from Ray. The girl's father then called police.
Sentencing has been set for Nov. 7. Johnson said prosecutors asked that Ray be placed in jail until then, a request which 4th District Judge Lynn Davis granted.
"He belongs in prison," Johnson said. "He's a predator and someone that should not be out on the street."
Brass said his client has no criminal history.
"He's never been in trouble at all," he said. "It was beyond dispute that he was completely in love with this girl, but the jury gave us a fair trial. We just disagree with their conclusion."