When she took the witness stand last week, the accuser in the Summit County sexual battery trial of a 26-year-old New York law school graduate described in detail what she claimed had happened before and after the alleged incident.
After drinking at a wedding party at a Cuyahoga Falls hotel, the woman said she went to bed in a second-floor room with her clothes on except for a pair of sandals and suddenly awoke unclothed with someone on top of her having sex with her in complete darkness.
She also testified that she vomited as soon as she awoke.
Calling that story ''incredible,'' Common Pleas Judge Judy Hunter on Monday found the defendant, Sahil Sharma, not guilty of the third-degree felony charge and two supplemental misdemeanor charges of falsification for allegedly misleading investigators.
Hunter took the weekend to think about her decision after the trial ended on Thursday, saying she reached her conclusion about the woman's story using ''reason and common sense.''
Sharma, in a case that has been under a legal magnifying glass because of the admission of defense polygraph evidence, said after Hunter announced the verdicts in the packed courtroom: ''At the end of the day, justice was served. I always knew that I was innocent, and my parents always knew that I was innocent.
''I thought that the prosecution didn't care about the polygraph evidence the profound, convincing evidence that I didn't do this crime,'' he said.
Sharma, who was in the area last summer for a family wedding when the incident occurred at the Sheraton Suites hotel in the early hours of Aug. 28, had passed three polygraph tests supporting his story that the incident was consensual.
Moments after Hunter issued her decision, Sharma's accuser, Michelle M. Sacia, 24, began sobbing in the public seating section, surrounded by family members, workers from Victim Services and sheriff's deputies.
Assistant Summit County Prosecutor Brad Gessner, head of the office's criminal division and the lead prosecutor in the case, said he was ''disappointed'' in the verdict.
''But at the same time, we're very proud that this victim had the courage in spite of everything that went on in this case to stand up and face (Sharma), and that she had the guts to take the witness stand and subject herself to his attorney's cross-examination. He didn't,'' Gessner said.
The two sides had battled heatedly at times in the judge's chambers over the admissibility of the polygraphs.
In Hunter's pretrial decision allowing the three polygraphs, she set the condition that the evidence could be used only if Sharma testify and, in turn, subject himself to cross-examination.
But as the prosecution's case was winding down on Thursday, the state played a 21/2-hour DVD of one of the polygraph tests by Dr. Louis I. Rovner of Los Angeles in an apparent attempt to show how Sharma allegedly made contradictory statements to investigators.
Details that Sharma gave to Falls police at the hotel, Gessner charged, were different than details he gave to Rovner in the March 9 polygraph in Rovner's West Coast office.
However, after the prosecution opened the door to the polygraph evidence, defense lawyer Kirk A. Migdal decided there was no need for Sharma to testify, so he never took the stand in his own defense.
Migdal rested his case after calling only two witnesses, one a Falls police officer who contradicted part of Sacia's testimony. Sacia said she was told by the officer to attend the wedding ceremony on the day after the incident. The officer testified that he gave no such advice.
Clothing was key
Hunter emphasized the items of clothing Sacia was wearing to explain the crux of her decision.
Sacia testified she went to bed wearing jeans with two buttons and a zipper in front, underwear and a T-shirt with a white tank top and bra underneath. She said she removed only the sandals before falling asleep.
For someone to remove all of those clothes under the full weight of Sacia's body, piece by piece, ''without being awakened, even from the heaviest sleep, this court finds to be incredible,'' Hunter said.
The judge also pointed out another hole in Sacia's testimony. The accuser said she was naked when she awoke and vomited, but the judge emphasized that the T-shirt and tank top were heavily stained in front a strong indication Sacia had vomited with her clothes on.
Migdal, in fact, had placed the T-shirt and tank top on the top railing of the jury box to hammer home that point during his closing argument.
As Sharma left the courthouse with his family members, he said he was returning immediately to New York to resume his legal career.
''I just want to go home with my family, to go back to practicing law, so hopefully one day I'll be able to help someone in the same position,'' he said.
Sharma graduated from Touro Law School in the spring and has taken the New York bar exam. He said he is awaiting the results in November.
Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or firstname.lastname@example.org.