A Bellingham bistro co-owner pleaded guilty to two counts of rape Thursday, in a deal suggesting that he serve little to no more jail time for the crimes.
Jamison Scott Rogayan, 32, has spent over 1 ½ years behind bars accused of sexual assaults on five women, who testified they were drunk, high, or both when he made unwanted advances.
Prosecutors had charged Rogayan with four counts of second-degree rape, one count of indecent liberties and one count of unlawful imprisonment. Court records show he faced up to life in prison if convicted on each count.
One rape charge was dismissed mid-trial by Judge Charles Snyder after one of the women testified she woke up feeling woozy in Rogayan’s bed, and “passively accepted.” A jury of six men and six women could not reach a verdict on any other counts. So the judge declared a mistrial. Prosecutors said they planned to take the case to trial again, if the women were willing to retake the witness stand.
Instead, Rogayan pleaded guilty Thursday to two counts of third-degree rape and one count of unlawful imprisonment.
“It’s accurate to say (the women) all are relieved that they don’t have to relive this,” Deputy Prosecutor Evan Jones said. “They understand the important consequences of him being a sex offender. They all personally think he would have deserved to sit in prison longer, but none of them is upset.”
The agreement calls for a sentence of 25 ½ months behind bars – within the standard range of 22 to 29 months – though a judge could impose more or less time at a sentencing hearing. As part of the deal Rogayan will be released from jail until his next court date in June.
The charges came to light in September 2015, when posts on the social media site reddit.com/r/Bellingham, and later Facebook, accused Rogayan of rape. At the time Rogayan had just opened a restaurant, Cosmos Bistro, on the ground floor of the Herald Building. His business partner, Cinnamon Berg, banned him from the restaurant when she heard the allegations.
Several women, who were strangers beforehand, saw the posts on social media, and shared stories of their own encounters on a private Facebook page. At trial the women said reading the stories compelled them to finally make a police report.
The defense argued the online discussions were evidence of witness collusion.
A total of 10 women accused Rogayan of sexual assaults, from 2006 to early 2015. The statute of limitations had expired in four cases. One woman didn’t wish to press charges. Five women endured hours of questioning in front of a jury, where they described hazy memories of what happened in Rogayan’s apartment.
As a general policy The Bellingham Herald does not name alleged victims of sexual assault. Here we are using initials for the sake of clarity.
On the witness stand Rogayan denied any sexual contact with two of the women, one of whom, R., testified the assault lasted hours in 2011. Rogayan and R. went to a costume party together that night as friends, but things turned sour between them when Rogayan got kicked out of the party. She went back to his apartment to pick up her things, where she says he sexually abused her. Rogayan denied it.
Three accusers testified they met Rogayan, or bumped into him, at Cap Hansen’s, before he invited them to his apartment down the street on East Chestnut.
H. testified she spoke with Rogayan at the bar in fall 2013, and he invited her back to his apartment, where he offered cocaine, marijuana, and mixed drinks. She took cocaine. Their stories diverge from there. She said she felt “trapped” in his apartment for hours. He didn’t seem to pick up on her romantic disinterest, she testified, and he French-kissed her. Rogayan claimed she kissed him, and it was a comical, nonsexual kiss. Once he left the room she ran outside. She did not realize police would consider that kiss a crime until she came forward to report it.
Two of the women, E. and G., testified they awoke to Rogayan sexually touching them in his bed. E. had consumed alcohol and MDMA on the night she ran into Rogayan for the first time in February 2014. Rogayan testified he didn’t realize she’d blacked out, when she accepted his invitation to go to his apartment. He said E. took off her pants, which he took as a “green light.”
G. believes Rogayan spiked her gin and tonic at Cap Hansen’s in November 2014, while she went to the bathroom. She recalled two drinks, then an immediate blackout, like a light switch going off. Rogayan testified he kissed G., fell asleep, and woke up with his hand in her waistband, but he denied sexually touching her. She said she had to yank his arm away to make him stop.
Rogayan said he didn’t realize E. and G. were blacked out.
Defense attorney Alexander Ransom filed a 139-page motion last week asking a judge to either dismiss the case or change the venue for the second trial, due in large part to local media coverage.
“Undoubtedly, the media shall continue its heavy, prejudicial coverage of this matter through another jury trial,” Ransom wrote.
The defense accused a deputy prosecutor, Eric Richey, of prosecutorial misconduct for a statement quoted in The Herald: “This is a strong case; we believe our victims,” which Richey said moments after the mistrial was declared.
Ransom argued that the quote, and other extensive coverage of the case, affected Rogayan’s right to a fair trial. The plea deal was reached before a judge could decide if the motion had merit, however.
Ransom did not immediately return a voice mail Thursday.
Plea paperwork does not specify which women Rogayan admits to raping. He will have to register as a sex offender.
Jail records show Rogayan was released around 11 a.m. Thursday, as he awaits a sentencing hearing set for June 6.