Q&A with the Prosecutor on the Bellingham Serial Rape Case

"People need to realize that when something bad happens, they should be able to talk about it."

By Hayat Norimine January 25, 2018

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Whatcom County chief criminal deputy prosecuting attorney Eric Richey charged Jamison Rogayan, a former Bellingham restaurant owner, with four counts of second-degree rape, indecent liberties, and unlawful imprisonment after several accusers came forward on social media. After a hung jury, prosecutors settled for a plea deal—two counts of third-degree rape and unlawful imprisonment.

Here Richey answers questions about the state’s statute of limitations for felony crimes, the case against Rogayan, and how prosecutors ultimately arrived at a plea deal. The interview has been edited for clarity.

What feedback did you hear from the accusers about the statute of limitations? What role did it play?

"We had one victim whose case we were able to charge for rape. The statute of limitations was longer on her case because she reported in 2011 to Bellingham police that she had been raped.

For whatever reason, those reports didn’t get sent to the prosecutor’s office and nobody filed on it. So it went beyond three years, which is the statute of limitations on rape and most felonies.

There were other charges that could’ve been attached to that, such as unlawful imprisonment. And she was not able to have the unlawful imprisonment charge. We had probably a stronger case for unlawful imprisonment (than rape) in that particular case."

Why does the statute of limitations for rape exist?

“I think that people need to know there’s some finality. Maybe they’ve done something wrong or something happened long ago, and there needs to be some end to that.

I mean who wants to be charged with something that happened so long ago that nobody really remembers it well? There are always mistakes and problems with people’s memories. The farther back you go, the worse it’s going to be.” 

But with murder, there is no statute. How do you think rape cases are different? 

“There’s a difference of opinion whether the crime even exists. With murder, you have someone that’s killed. I hope that the evidence is good there. Sexual assault involving intoxication, there’s a (much) bigger difference about whether a crime even occurred.”

What are the challenges in convicting someone as more time passes?

“People’s memory of what happened. When we’re talking about things that happen in secret and whether or not the crime even occurred, memory is the most important thing. And then finding corroboration as the time passes.

Three years, I’m not sure that is the right number. But at some point there should be a statute of limitations.”

How important is physical evidence?

“Physical evidence is not as important as you’d think. Most people think, how can you prove it without physical evidence? But it all comes down to the credibility of the people testifying. 

If people find the victim credible, we win our case. If they have questions about credibility, we lose. That’s just the bottom line.”

How did you decide to go for a plea agreement? 

“We went through a fairly long trial and put on five victims. We had selected what we thought was a pretty darn good jury.

We didn’t think we’d be able to put on a better case. We felt that this was it. And our Whatcom County jury, as good as we thought they were, they came back undecided on so many counts. So we decided that in our best interest to make sure that this Jamison Rogayan was held accountable, we decided to offer the three charges and he accepted.”

You don’t think he would’ve been convicted of all counts?

“I think that our chances weren’t strong. We had a number of victims. We had talked to our jury afterwards about who they thought was the strongest victim in the case. And they identified one. And that victim was reluctant to go forward again. She wanted some assurances that we would get a conviction, and that’s just something we couldn’t give her. 

We didn’t think that we could tell her with confidence that we would absolutely win. Since we couldn’t tell her that, she wanted us to plead the case, basically give a plea bargain. Not all the victims were as happy about that, but again she was our strongest count. That’s what kind of tilted us toward deciding to make the offer that we did.”

What made Lisa Greene the strongest testimony to the jury?

“It’s really hard to say. Doing these things as long as I have, I think the jury just found Lisa Greene the most likable and the most credible. The way she answered the questions, you just knew she was telling you the truth. She just had a frankness about her. The jury believed her." 

Why do you think there was a hung jury?

“I think that we had picked a great jury. We had very intelligent folks, we had folks that had quite a bit of experience in their own lives. That meant something to me. I thought folks could really sift through the bullshit and get to the truth of the matter.

We had one juror, however, who I thought would be a good juror. She had almost the exact same thing happen to her when she was about 16. She remembers it very well, it affected her greatly.

From talking to the rest of the jury, she … I think she decided that this wasn’t rape, that what happened to her was worse than what happened to these women. It was terrible.”

One message from the court documents really struck me, that a friend asked one of the women if she got “Jamesoned.” He had this reputation; why do you think there were people who hadn’t bothered to mention this to law enforcement?

“I’ll tell you, I had a number of victims who didn’t seem to be aware of the law. They didn’t realize that if they were too intoxicated to consent that they had been raped.”

What do you think needs to change, is it an education problem?

“I feel like education’s happening right now. I think people need to realize that when something bad happens, they should be able to talk about it. How are we going to stop the crime? I don’t know. But I think reporting is the first step.”

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