Congolese man convicted of sexual assault

Congolese man convicted of sexual assault

URBANA — Champaign County jurors took 4 1/2 hours Friday to decide whose version of an alleged sexual assault that happened two years ago in a car outside a Champaign man's apartment to believe.

After four days of testimony before Judge Tom Difanis, protracted because of the need for a French translator for defendant Jean Fukama-Kabika, 33, the jury sided with the victim.

Fukama-Kabika, who came to the country from the Republic of the Congo in 2012 as a legal alien, faces four to 15 years in prison. Difanis set sentencing for July 3.

He was convicted of two counts criminal sexual assault for two different acts and less serious charges of criminal sexual abuse and unlawful restraint for what happened to the then-21-year-old woman.

Testimony at the four-day trial was that the acts happened in the early morning of May 3, 2015, at the end of what was the first time that the two Parkland College students who had known each other a couple months had socialized outside of school.

On May 2, Fukama-Kabika invited the woman to join him at an Urbana hotel where the Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao fight was being shown from Las Vegas.

Testimony was that the woman drove herself to the hotel, joining Fukama-Kabika and four of his male friends. All of them spoke French and a combination of other languages to each other, the woman said, mostly ignoring her during the evening except to periodically ask her if she wanted a drink. She speaks only English.

She said at one point, she left the fight to go home and work on a school paper, then returned later because she felt bad because Fukama-Kabika had paid for her ticket. The woman was adamant there was nothing physical between them that evening.

After watching the fight, the group went to a downtown Champaign bar, had a couple of drinks, then headed for home.

Fukama-Kabika, who had ridden with a friend, got in her BMW and asked her to take him home.

Once in the parking lot of his apartment in the 2000 block of West White Street, she thanked him for inviting her and instead of getting out to leave, she said he just sat there.

She then described a series of sexual advances by him.

"I told him I wasn't interested, that I just got out of a relationship and I wasn't interested in going there. He told me I needed to get over it," she said.

The woman said he progressed from kissing her to pulling down the front of her shirt and putting his face in her chest to reaching down her pants and making contact with her genital area.

"I just kept saying no and I want to go home. He'd say 'Why?'" she recounted.

The woman, who is about 5 feet, 6 inches tall and weighs 93 pounds, said she was overpowered by Fukama-Kabika, who is 6-5 and about 200 pounds. She described initially struggling against his advances, then eventually giving up.

"I just pretended I was anywhere but there," she said, describing other sex acts for the seven women and five men hearing the case. "It seemed pointless (to fight) him because it's a fight I didn't think I could win."

The woman said she forcefully told him to get out of her car, which he did, and that she drove home and phoned a friend to come to her house. The friend testified he came over and found her visibly upset and crying for a long time but reluctant to share details of what had happened.

Defendant: Felt 'chemistry'

Later that morning, she and her aunt, with whom she was living, called police. Officer Tim Frye, who had been on the street about a month, took her statement with his training officer there. Frye said the woman declined to go to the hospital and that she left out parts of what had happened to her, revealing those 10 months later to a detective.

She said she was embarrassed to tell everything to two male officers and that she didn't go to the hospital because "I did not want anybody touching me."

Fukama-Kabika, on the stand a total of three hours Thursday, testified through a translator that even though he's been in the U.S. since December 2012, he still has trouble understanding English.

He said texts he sent the woman in April and May that included "kissy-face emojis" were a form of "courtship."

After the fight was over, he said, she invited him to dance even though he told her he didn't want to.

"As a medical doctor, I don't feel like dancing in public. She insisted. She took my hand and we danced," he said.

The two disagreed on whether they touched. She said they didn't. He said they did.

At his apartment, Fukama-Kabika said the woman did not say anything or object when he kissed her. He acknowledged that she told him she didn't want a relationship but he did not think that meant she was objecting to his advances. He even described feeling a "chemistry taking place between us."

Two days later, Frye found Fukama-Kabika at his apartment and arrested him after about a half-hour oral interview in the hallway, that Frye characterized as containing "admissions" of the sexual acts.

Lozar: No motive to lie

In closing arguments, Assistant State's Attorney Troy Lozar said there was no reason for the jurors not to believe the woman.

The evening was not a date and Fukama-Kabika's friends confirmed there was nothing "romantic" going on between the couple.

"Do you find it credible that she melts into his arms suddenly overcome with sexual passion? No matter how much the defendant draws that picture, it's not the case. In a Penthouse Forum letter, maybe that story can sell," Lozar said, hammering away on the fact that the woman had no motive to lie.

But defense attorney Adam Dill argued just as vehemently that there was no proof that his client sexually assaulted the woman.

"We don't have any physical evidence. Where are the injuries? Where's the crime scene photo of the BMW?" Dill said, asking the jury to be skeptical about the woman changing her story months later.

In spite of Lozar's argument that Fukama-Kabika spoke and understood English just fine, Dill maintained that his client was unable to properly explain himself to police.

"We're talking about armed men asking leading questions to get him to make admissions, then not letting him explain what he meant," he said, adding that it was a huge omission by Frye, a new officer still in training, to not record the interview of Fukama-Kabika.

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