A Casper man sexually assaulted a woman while holding her down on a couch, the alleged victim told jurors Monday on the opening day of his trial.
The woman testified that Levi Zitterkopf tried repeatedly to kiss her in the days leading up to the assault. Her family was living with Zitterkopf at the time, and she said she was initially hesitant to come forward because she was afraid to lose a place to live.
Zitterkopf faces a charge of first-degree sexual assault in the case. If convicted, he could face up to 50 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. He remained free on bail Monday afternoon.
Zitterkopf is known for briefly appearing on a History Channel show that chronicled the work of logging crews across the country, including his father’s business.
Under cross-examination inside a Natrona County district courtroom, the woman said she could not remember many of the details of the alleged assault, including the day, month or year in which it occurred.
After prosecutor Kevin Taheri objected to questioning by Zitterkopf’s lawyer, Judge Catherine Wilking said she would allow the questions to continue.
“There has been conflicting testimony,” she said.
It is not uncommon for people who have experienced traumatic events to have difficulty recalling memories associated with the event, according to research published by the National Institutes of Health.
Lawyers outline strategy
After a morning of jury selection, the court went into recess for just over an hour, resuming after lunch. Wilking read the jurors their instructions before prosecuting and defense attorneys made their opening statements.
Taheri spoke first, telling the jury that Zitterkopf had a history of sexual assault that had never been prosecuted. He went on to say that he would call three women that had been assaulted by Zitterkopf between 2011 and 2015. After the 2015 assault, Zitterkopf stole the woman’s car and later said she had given it to him in exchange for sex, Taheri said. The woman declined to press charges in relation to the 2015 incident and Zitterkopf was never arrested in relation to the other three alleged assaults.
Turning to the case being tried, Taheri said that in 2016 Zitterkopf had pulled a woman onto a couch in his father’s house and held her down while he pulled her pants down and assaulted her.
“The defendant, Levi Zitterkopf, refused to take no for an answer,” Taheri said.
Taheri said he would also call the nurse who examined the alleged victim in the case, a forensic scientist from the state crime lab, a psychologist and two Casper police detectives over the course of the trial, which is scheduled to last four days.
Patrick Lewallen, an attorney for Zitterkopf, spoke next.
After beginning by saying his client had not sexually assaulted his accuser, Lewallen went on to ask the jury to disregard news reports about the case. He said only some of Taheri’s witnesses were familiar with the alleged incident or the woman alleging the assault.
Lewallen said many people, including his client, had lied in an unclear chain of events that brought Zitterkopf before the jury.
“A part of this story will be about lies,” Lewallen said. “Lies told by several people ... including Levi.”
After the opening statements concluded, Taheri called the nurse who examined the alleged victim.
Tara Legler, who is trained in conducting sexual assault examinations, said she thought the woman had been assaulted. Legler said the alleged victim’s body had been covered with bruising and her genitals showed signs of trauma when the examination took place.
Taheri then projected photos Legler took to document the woman’s injuries onto a screen covering one wall of the courtroom. Because the computer typically used to notate images was apparently malfunctioning, Legler stepped down from the stand and stood next to Taheri as he placed images into the projector. Legler used a pencil to point out bruising, redness and a suction wound that the alleged victim said was a “hickey.”
While Legler described the injuries to the jury, Zitterkopf worked a mechanical pencil on a yellow legal pad.
Under cross-examination, Legler repeatedly told Rob Oldham, Zitterkopf’s other lawyer, that she was not an investigator and as a result did not question the alleged victim like an investigator might.
After a break, the alleged victim took the stand. She told jurors that her family had moved into the Zitterkopf house after being evicted from another residence.
She said that her parents had been unable to pay the bills at the previous house, and she was reticent to tell her mother she had been assaulted for fear of losing a place to live.
After describing the assault, Taheri asked her if she had consented.
“No,” she said.
Under cross-examination, the woman told Oldham that she did not remember what day, month or year the alleged assault took place.
Oldham insinuated that some of the woman’s injuries had been inflicted by her father, whom the attorney said liked to “play around” with a stun gun.
As Oldham asked the woman about the state of her clothes on the night of the incident, Taheri made an objection, which was quickly overruled by Wilking.
Wilking sent the jury home at 4:45 p.m. and called the lawyers to the bench for a whispered conference before adjourning eight minutes later.