A Bellingham bistro co-owner must serve 2 years and 5 months in prison for preying on women who were too drunk or high to consent to sex.
Jamison Scott Rogayan, 33, ran the front of house at Cosmos Bistro in September 2015, when social media posts surfaced on reddit.com/r/bellingham calling him a rapist. As posts spread across Facebook, a total of 10 women came forward to tell police Rogayan sexually assaulted them, too, when they were impaired.
Some cases were nearly a decade old – too old for the statute of limitations. One woman did not want to testify. Only five cases went to trial. After an excruciating trial in February, a jury could not reach a verdict on any counts. Instead of going through another trial, Rogayan took a plea deal where he admitted to two counts of third-degree rape and a count of unlawful imprisonment.
At Rogayan’s sentencing hearing Tuesday morning, two women read painful letters to the court. Their voices did not waver. One woman, in her early 30s, asked the judge for the highest sentence possible. She reasserted that what happened to her was a violent sexual assault that lasted hours – not a non-sexual fight that Rogayan described on the witness stand. Another woman, 42, told the judge she had no interest in seeing the defendant “in a box for years to come,” even though it was clear that Rogayan still doesn’t think he did anything wrong.
“However, you know what you did,” the woman said. “You do know it was a repeated pattern of yours. In my case, it was crystal clear that I did not willingly take part in sexual activity with you.”
Rogayan met many of the women downtown at Cap Hansen’s bar on East Chestnut Street, where he was a regular. One woman suspected he drugged her gin and tonic. One said she’d blacked out from a mix of MDMA and alcohol, when they bumped into each other at Cap Hansen’s. Both of those women gave nearly identical accounts to the jury: groggily waking up in Rogayan’s apartment, to find him sexually touching them. Another said Rogayan invited her to his home for cocaine, where he made unwanted advances. Stories from other women echoed the same pattern.
Rogayan denied they were sexual assaults. He told a Department of Corrections investigator the women must have colluded against him, to run him out of town.
“Nothing we do is going to make Mr. Rogayan see that he did wrong,” said the chief criminal deputy prosecutor, Eric Richey, at the sentencing. “Apparently, he thinks that he is the victim of women conspiring against him – because he didn’t ask them out again, or maybe because they’re just angry at his successes.”
State guidelines suggest a prison sentence of 22 to 29 months for a first-time offender of Rogayan’s crimes. His attorney, Alexander Ransom, argued the judge should sentence him to the 25 ½ months agreed on in the plea deal. More time would hurt Rogayan’s chances of reintegrating into society, Ransom wrote in a sentencing memorandum. He is a changed man, who found God, Ransom said.
“The public is protected by his conscience,” he wrote.
Rogayan served 1 ½ years while awaiting trial. He fought through tears, as he did months ago in court, when he told the court Tuesday his use of drugs and alcohol led him to make horrible choices that hurt people. He said his study of the Bible had changed him.
“Through my faith I found sobriety,” Rogayan said. “However, I will live the rest of my life with the knowledge that I caused so much pain. I should not have been inviting women home from the bar.”
After his plea Rogayan was released from jail and lived in another part of Washington state while he awaited sentencing. Once he’s out of prison Rogayan must register as a sex offender.
Superior Court Judge Charles Snyder told Rogayan that, in spite of his assertion that he was very impaired during the sexual encounters, it was “interesting” Rogayan was able to describe in great detail all of the events far more clearly than the women who testified.
“It’s my concern,” the judge added, “that Mr. Rogayan has not, at any point, acknowledged that he crossed any sort of boundary with the women that he’s accused of assaulting.”
Snyder handed down the highest sentence he could, noting the law left him with few options. The judge rejected the notion that women conspired against Rogayan.
“There was no conspiracy,” Snyder said. “There was no witch hunt. There was no group trying to ‘get’ Mr. Rogayan, for any reason whatsoever.”
“I don’t think the evidence supports that in any way,” the judge continued. “I think that all the women involved were merely reaching out to help others, and themselves, in any way they could. Nothing that happened here was the fault or the responsibility of the women who were involved.”