Court TV Casefiles

Ohio v. Mesa (4/97)

Jose Mesa, a relief pitcher with the Cleveland Indians baseball team, was accused of sexually assaulting two women he met at a bar in the Flats area of downtown Cleveland. His trial began on April 1, the day before the Cleveland Indians opened their season in Oakland, California.

According to the prosecution, Mesa, 30, and his friend, David Blanco, 34, met two 26-year-old women in the Flats area of downtown Cleveland on Dec. 22, 1996. One of the women claimed that Mesa grabbed her purse and placed it around his neck refusing to give it back. In an attempt to retrieve her purse, the woman followed Mesa into his car and the two drove to a motel in Lakewood, a suburb of Cleveland.

The state said that sometime during the car ride, Mesa put his hands down the woman's pants and penetrated her with his finger. The woman's friend followed them in her car and arrived at the Lakewood motel. The women retreated into the bathroom of a motel room Mesa and Blanco had rented to discuss their situation. Mesa pushed open the bathroom door and refused to let the two women have any privacy. One of the women said that Mesa hit her face with the door, cutting her lip and injuring two teeth.

The two women accused Mesa and Blanco fondling them before they could leave the motel room. After the two women left the motel, they were stopped by police for making an illegal right turn on a red light. The police officer noticed bruising on one of the women's faces and asked if she was OK. She responded that she had been assaulted by Mesa.

The defense denied all allegations. Mesa claimed that nothing happened and that the two women had initiated contact with him.

The alleged incident occurred on Dec. 22, but Mesa wasn't arrested until almost a week later. On Dec. 27, police went to Mesa's home with an arrest warrant, but hesitated when they saw his children and other family members at the house. Police developed an elaborate ruse to lure Mesa to another location to arrest him. A female police detective called Mesa's cellular phone and posed as a woman eager to meet him. When Mesa went to meet her, the police arrested him.

The police found a 9 mm handgun in Mesa's car when they arrested him and charged him with carrying a concealed weapon. The judge agreed to defense motions to try the weapons charge separately.

Police arrested Blanco on Dec. 27 when he arrived to post bond for Mesa. Blanco was charged with one count of gross sexual imposition for allegedly groping one of the women and for carrying a concealed weapon, which police found in his car upon arrest. He was freed on $2,500 bond and will be tried separately.

During the trial, the prosecution paraded a total of 10 witnesses before the jury, including the two alleged victims, a friend who was with them the night of the incident, the police detectives who investigated the case, and two employees of a club where the alleged victims met Mesa. The defense rested its case without presenting any witnesses.

The Charges
Jose Mesa was charged with one count of rape for allegedly penetrating one woman with his finger and two counts of gross sexual imposition for allegedly groping the two women in the Lakewood motel room.

He was also charged with one count of felonious assault for allegedly hurting one of the women by opening the bathroom door in her face and one count of theft for allegedly stealing a purse from the alleged rape victim. The judge eventually threw out the felonious assault charge, saying that the alleged victim's injury may have been an accident. The judge also ruled the jury could also consider a lesser offense of gross sexual imposition along with the charge of rape.

Until July 1996, Mesa would have been charged with felonious sexual penetration for allegedly penetrating the woman with his finger. However, Ohio law was changed last year to eliminate the felonious sexual penetration charge and include it into the definition of rape.

The Defendant
Jose Mesa is a native of the Dominican Republic. He is wildly popular with Cleveland Indians fans, largely because his relief pitching helped lead the Indians to the World Series in 1995 for the first time in 41 years.

Mesa's 46 saves in the 1995 season led the majors and broke the Cleveland record for most saves in a season. A former player for the Toronto Blue Jays and the Baltimore Orioles, Mesa joined the Indians in 1992.

The Prosecution
Frank Gasper, the former chief of the major trial division in Cuyahoga County which handles all rape and murder cases, has tried more than 100 cases involving allegations of sexual assault. After graduating from law school, Gasper worked in a civil law firm for three years before joining the district attorney's office in 1971. He left to go into private practice, but returned in 1980. He received his law degree from the Cleveland Marshall School of Law in 1968.

The Defense
Gerald and Gale Messerman were married in 1974 and have practiced law together since 1980. Gerald Messerman was an assistant U.S. attorney in Washington, D.C. and taught law at Ohio State University from 1964-68. He has been in private practice since the late 1960s and practices civil litigation and criminal law. He received his law degree from Case Western Reserve University in 1958.

Gale Messerman was a Legal Services Fellow in Atlanta from 1969-71 and taught at Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland State for eight years. She also served as president of the Cleveland Bar Association in 1994-95. She received her law degree from Southern Methodist University in Dallas in 1969.

The Judge
Thomas Curran was appointed to the bench in 1994. Following graduation from Case Western Reserve University School of Law in 1962, Curran worked for the U.S. Department of Justice for six years and was an assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Maryland. Prior to his appointment, Curran was in private practice from 1968-94 in Cleveland.

The Verdict
On April 9, 1997, a jury acquitted Mesa of all charges.

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