On September 1, 1991—a busy Labor Day weekend—two men driving on the shore of Yuba Reservoir in Joab County, Utah, decided to give a lift to a young woman who said her husband had stalked off after they had a fight.
The act of kindness changed the lives of Jed Allen Gressman
, 22, and Troy Jon Hancock, 25, who were driving through the Yuba State Park enroute to Hancock’s home in Orem, Utah.
In January, 1992, the woman—who Gressman had recognized as a former co-worker—accused them of sexually assaulting her. Gressman, of Spanish Fork, Utah, and Hancock said their truck bogged down in sand and the woman walked off while they were trying to free the vehicle. Both were arrested and charged with rape, aggravated kidnapping and aggravated sexual assault.
A year later, in January, 1993, the 20-year-old woman testified at trial that Gressman and Hancock had offered to help her find her husband, but instead drove her to a secluded spot where her clothes were ripped off, she was punched and her head bashed on a rock and Gressman raped her.
A DNA expert testified that only 21 percent of the male population could have produced the semen sample collected from the victim. Gressman fell into that group. There was no other physical evidence and the victim had no head or other injuries when she sought help from police.
Evidence showed that at first the victim said her attackers were in a gray truck and she identified one as “Jed.” Police located that man—but he was able to prove that he was not at the reservoir that day. Three months later, she gave police Gressman’s name and changed her description of the truck to orange with a black stripe, which matched Hancock’s truck.
The jury acquitted the defendants of rape and kidnapping, but found both men guilty of aggravated sexual assault for groping the victim. Hancock and Gressman were each sentenced to five years to life in prison.
Friends of the two men raised money for a re-investigation of the case and turned up evidence that the victim had falsely accused a man of a rape two years earlier in Provo, Utah as well as evidence that the victim’s family members had been seen checking out Hancock’s truck shortly before she changed her description of the vehicle.
Most significantly, defense attorney Milton Harmon persuaded the state to retest the semen sample using more advanced technology. The testing excluded Hancock and Gressman.
Juab County Attorney David Leavitt dismissed the charges and both were released on June 12, 1996 after serving 41 months in prison. Gressman filed a lawsuit seeking compensation in 1999. He died in a fire in 2010. A Joab County judge awarded his estate $220,000 in 2012.
– Maurice Possley