Charges Dropped in SF Craig's List Sex Assault Case

Friday, Sep 2, 2011  |  Updated 4:52 PM PDT
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Charges Dropped in SF Craig's List Sex Assault Case

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A judge dismissed the majority of the charges against a man  accused of sexually assaulting three women at his San Francisco apartment  following the preliminary hearing this week.
    Robert Hoffman, 50, who also goes by the name Michael, was being  held on $3 million bail and faced nine felony charges including rape, forced  oral copulation and sexual battery in connection with three incidents between  March and August at his apartment in the 1000 block of North Point Street  near Ghirardelli Square.

    Six of those charges were thrown out by San Francisco Superior  Court Judge Bruce Chan, who determined there was insufficient evidence to try  Hoffman on charges related to two of the incidents.     After Friday's testimony, Chan also reduced Hoffman's bail to  $450,000, which is in line with statutory guidelines for the two counts of  forced oral copulation and one count of sexual battery that remain.
    Hoffman, who works as an employment lawyer in San Francisco, was  accused of sexually assaulting a 36-year-old East Bay woman in March, a  19-year-old San Francisco woman in June and a 25-year-old East Bay woman on  Aug. 5, prosecutors said.
    According to testimony in the preliminary hearing, which began on  Wednesday and continued this morning, Hoffman arranged meetings with each  woman at his apartment via ads he posted on Craigslist. Each woman said she  tried to leave but was prevented from doing so and forced into sexual acts.
    Hoffman's attorney Stuart Hanlon told Chan on Wednesday that he  had video footage of the June encounter that contradicts the victim's  testimony and exonerates his client.
    Charges related to the June incident were dismissed today after  the 19-year-old woman was shown the approximately 13-minute long video that  she said accurately portrayed her sexual encounter with Hoffman. Chan said  the video was inconsistent with testimony she provided on Wednesday about the  encounter.
    The woman had testified she had rough but consensual sex with  Hoffman twice prior to the June 25 incident, in which she came over to his  apartment and was raped after saying she did not want to have sex.
    Charges related to the August incident were also dropped after the  woman upon being questioned by Hanlon regarding text messages she and Hoffman  exchanged the night of the alleged assault, provided testimony inconsistent  with what she had told police when she reported the battery.
    According to a transcript that Hanlon read during the hearing, she  and Hoffman had exchanged text messages indicating that they had arranged for  a consensual sexual encounter on the night of Aug. 4.
    The woman said she had initially been OK with the rough sex but  that she became uncomfortable after Hoffman had choked her and she gasped for  air. When she asked Hoffman to stop hurting her, he listened, she said.
    She left Hoffman's apartment at about 12:30 a.m. on Aug. 5 with  bruises on her breasts, her side, and her arm, and she then called police to  report the assault. Hoffman was arrested hours later.
    She testified that she had told a police inspector that she had  never had sex with Hoffman, but this morning she testified that she had  intercourse twice, and only twice, with Hoffman.
    This afternoon, Hanlon read aloud transcripts of text messages  that the woman confirmed indicated that she and Hoffman had sexual  intercourse more than twice.
    Chan said that the woman's testimony presented "a significant  inconsistency."
    Outside the courtroom, Hanlon told reporters that the woman was  "unbelievable in every sense of the word."
    He said, "She clearly lied," adding that she and the other woman  who provided inconsistent testimony were "just plain liars."
    The remaining charges stem from an encounter between Hoffman and  the 36-year-old East Bay woman, who testified on Wednesday that she was  sexually assaulted in Hoffman's apartment on March 1 after responding to an  ad on Craigslist.
    The victim in her Wednesday testimony acknowledged sending  sexually explicit pictures of herself -- including one of her wearing her  cat's collar around her neck -- to Hoffman prior to their encounter.
    During her testimony, she said that Hoffman had choked and slapped  her before engaging in forced oral copulation on her until she broke free and  fled his apartment.
    The victim said that Hoffman had told her he liked being dominant  during sex and said she liked that, but said she became scared during their  encounter because she "thought it would be more playful."
    The woman called police a day later and reported the incident.
    "The line is unclear, and the jury is going to have to figure out  what it is," Chan said after dismissing two-thirds of the charges and  reducing Hoffman's bail.
    The prosecution did not object to the dismissal of the charges and  did not comment after the hearing.
    Hoffman will next appear in court on Sept. 16 for formal  arraignment on the remaining charges.
    Hanlon said that he anticipates Hoffman will be out on bail  sometime within the next week.

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