A jury on Wednesday found a Casper man not guilty of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl.
Levi Zitterkopf was charged in the case last fall after the girl told law enforcement that Zitterkopf assaulted her in her home.
When the verdict was announced in Natrona County District Court, Zitterkopf tilted his head back and audibly exhaled. His father, who was present for much of the three-day trial, buried his head in his crossed arms.
The single charge of first-degree sexual assault would have been punishable by up to 50 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
The woman, now 18, testified on Monday that her family was living with Zitterkopf at the time of the assault, and she was initially hesitant to come forward because she was afraid of losing a place to live.
Zitterkopf decided not to testify in his own defense during the trial.
During Wednesday morning’s closing arguments, Prosecutor Kevin Taheri said the alleged victim had no reason to invent an allegation of sexual assault against Zitterkopf.
“Why would (the alleged victim) accuse Levi Zitterkopf of sexual assault and then go through all this if it didn’t happen?” the prosecutor asked.
Taheri said the woman’s difficulty remembering specific details, such as the date of the alleged assault, was indicative of a response to trauma, and should not make her a less believable witness.
Taheri said the testimony of three other women who alleged Zitterkopf committed similar assaults against them should convince the jury that the woman was telling the truth.
Zitterkopf was never arrested in relation to those three alleged incidents.
Rob Oldham, one of Zitterkopf’s public defenders, said the case against his client was “an awful abuse of (the state’s) power.”
Oldham implied that Zitterkopf’s accuser had invented the assault to protect someone else, after the woman’s mother found a hickey on her neck.
He said the additional three accusations should not be considered, because they were never investigated by authorities.
“Did (the prosecution) provide you with the evidence you need?” Oldham asked the jury. “I think the answer is a resounding ‘no.’”
The jury deliberated for two hours before returning its verdict Wednesday.
After the verdict was announced, Oldham told a Star-Tribune reporter, “The jury system works,” and declined further comment.