As part of his request for a new trial, former police Sgt. Gordon Ennis alleges another officer had sexual contact with the victim the same night he was convicted of sexually assaulting her.
Led into Spokane County Superior Court Monday morning, his goatee now a graying beard, Ennis, through his new attorney Mark Vovos, argued that the public should be aware of information that his former trial attorney apparently ignored. Information, he alleges, that could have resulted in a different verdict.
“My wife and I were both told we were not supposed to tell anyone this, and we believed it would be used in my defense,” Ennis wrote in newly released court documents. “We were told that this was important.”
Defense attorney Rob Cossey, who represented Ennis for years leading up to and during the two-week trial, called the new information the “elephant in the room,” according to Kirsten Ennis, the defendant’s wife. And for close to two hours, attorneys in court debated Monday morning whether it could even be addressed.
The revelation has to do with a conversation that reportedly took place in Cossey’s office days after Ennis was arrested and released. It reportedly involved Chris Bugbee, attorney for Officer Doug Strosahl, who owns the home where the sexual assault occurred, and Cossey.
“Mr. Cossey was told by Mr. Strosahl’s attorney and reported to us that Mr. Strosahl had consensual sexual contact with (the victim) during the party that occurred at his house on October 24 and 25 of 2015,” Ennis says in court records. “Mr. Cossey told us that (the victim) believed Doug Strosahl to be me.”
Vovos argues that the information was “vital to the defense, as it would have raised significant questions regarding the testimony of both Mr. Strosahl and the complaining witness.”
“This information would raise questions regarding her bias, competency, and identification of Mr. Ennis (both Mr. Ennis and Mr. Strosahl had bald heads and goatees, and were the only two men at the party that evening)” Vovos continued.
In trial, Ennis testified that the victim led him into a bedroom, where she initiated sexual contact. He told jurors he willingly participated until voluntarily ending it. The victim told police and testified in court that she awoke to Ennis’ fingers inside her without her consent.
Strosahl owns the Colbert home where the rape occurred, and along with his fiancee, washed evidence and avoided investigators hours after the crime was reported even though he was reportedly one of the first people the victim confided in following the rape. He was called to the stand on the side of the defense, but never asked about this alleged event.
The Spokane Police Department confirmed last month Strosahl is currently under an internal affairs investigation for his handling of the matter.
Jeffry Finer, who represents Bugbee, pushed for the documents to remain sealed, arguing that the statement his client made to Cossey was a hypothetical, not a statement of fact. Further, he alleged that Cossey and Bugbee had entered a defense agreement, and anything shared between them would be privileged information, despite their being no written record of any such agreement.
“There is nothing admissible for Mr. Ennis to use from (Mr. Bugbee’s) hypothetical question,” he said in court. “We have a Hail Mary pass attempt to throw this case onto another individual, through a hypothetical question posited by that person’s attorney. It is meaningless for setting a new trial. A lot of heat for nothing.”
Superior Court Judge Maryann Moreno ultimately disagreed, siding with Vovos and unsealing the documents after about an hour of back and forth between Vovos and Finer.
“There has to be a compelling circumstance,” she said. “I read through this, and I am not finding a compelling circumstances that would warrant the sealing of this document.”
The court was then free to rule on whether a hearing should be scheduled regarding the merits and arguments in the request for a new trial.
In the motion, Vovos further argues that the state violated Ennis’ right to remain silent when in closing arguments, Deputy Prosecutor Kelly Fitzgerald asked jurors to question the timing and accuracies of Ennis’ statements when he took the stand.
Vovos further took issue with one of the jury instructions, which he argued unfairly prejudiced his client.
Moreno granted the request and scheduled the hearing for June 15 – the same date Ennis is to be sentenced.
The state balked at the general nature of the request, saying Vovos was throwing theories at the wall to see what sticks.
“This is not newly discovered evidence,” Fitzgerald said. “All of that was done well before this case was even filed.”
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.