PROVO -- A sheriff's deputy escorted a former Illinois law student out of a courtroom in handcuffs Friday morning after a jury returned from deliberations and convicted him of sexually abusing a teenage girl.
The jury spent a grueling eight hours Thursday, as well as time Friday morning, deciding if Eric Ray, 31, had sexually abused a 15-year-old Springville girl in 2010. In the end, Ray was convicted of a second-degree felony for forcible sexual abuse, but found not guilt of object rape. The jury deadlocked over two first-degree felonies for forcible sodomy.
The verdict means that Ray faces a one-to-15-year prison sentence for the second-degree felony. Prosecutors may continue to pursue convictions for the two sodomy charges, though no decision on how to proceed had been reached Friday morning.
The relationship that produced the charges began in 2008 when Ray -- a married law student living in Illinois at the time -- accidentally texted the girl. They subsequently continued corresponding, and by 2010 he flew to Utah, brought her to his room at the Provo Marriott and engaged in sexual activity.
Ray never testified during the trial, so much of the focus fell on his accuser, who struggled to recount the story. During a lengthy testimony on Monday, she recalled frequently text and instant message conversations with Ray during which he professed to love her. He also reportedly told her he wanted to marry her in an LDS temple and said his marriage was struggling.
During closing arguments, prosecutor Craig Johnson characterized Ray's behavior as "grooming." Johnson read from transcripts of the instant message conversations and argued that Ray's goal was to get sex from an impressionable and inexperienced girl.
Ray flew from Illinois to Utah in March 2010. According to prosecutors, Ray spent four days in Provo. He brought the girl to his hotel multiple times, and at one point had rose petals and 30 candles spread out in the room. Ray and the girl reportedly watched "New Moon" together -- a film prosecutors argued was chosen for its themes of "forbidden love" -- then he sent her to shower and shave. Afterward, they engaged in sexual activity, prosecutors say.
But defense attorney Ed Brass argued that apparent inconsistencies in the girl's story revealed that she and Ray never had sex. He pointed out that she had recounted the story five times and each time the story changed. Brass also pointed out that Ray's wife -- who has since divorced him -- knew about his correspondence with the girl and said it was not sexual.
Brass argued that Ray kissed the girl, which despite the age difference was not illegal.
During his own closing arguments, Brass read from the transcripts as well, noting that Ray repeatedly said he "had not had sex" in conversations he believed were with the girl, but which were actually with police using her Facebook account.
After the jury delivered the verdict, Brass asked that Ray be allowed to remain free until sentencing. He said Ray had always complied with the court and lived in Ogden.
"There's literally no evidence that he's a danger to the community," Brass argued.
However, 4th District Judge Lynn Davis sided with prosecutors and sent Ray to jail, adding that the conviction was evidence enough.
Brass declined to comment following the hearing. Ray, however, hugged a couple of emotional family members and held his hands behind his back while he was handcuffed.
"It's only one to 15 years," he said quietly to his supporters.
Johnson said he was pleased with the verdict. He noted that it was so difficult for the accuser to take the witness stand where she was "badgered" and "contradicted," that she almost didn't return for the verdict.
"She was mortified," Johnson said, adding that she still has years of counseling and therapy ahead.
Johnson also noted that the incident was the girl's "first love" and that it will continue to haunt her as she moves on to legitimate adult relationships. Prosecutors are waiting for a pre-sentence report before deciding exactly how to proceed, though Johnson said Ray should be in custody.
"Prison is where he belongs," Johnson added.
Ray will be sentenced Nov. 7. Prosecutors told the judge that they will make a decision about the two pending charges by the sentencing date.