Daniel Sopiwnik was found guilty Thursday on three felony counts of sexual assault in Dolores District Court after a July 2015 incident at the exclusive Dunton Hot Springs resort.
Sopiwnik, 32, was convicted of sexually assaulting a woman, then 18, multiple times between April to July 2015. The woman was asleep during the assaults, which occurred in staff housing at Dunton Hot Springs, prosecutors said. He also was accused of taking more than 140 photos and two videos of the assaults, which the woman discovered on Sopiwnik’s phone on July 12, 2015.
According to testimony, Sopiwnik worked as a chef at Dunton Hot Springs while the woman was a front-of-house worker, and they were in an intimate relationship at the time. Dunton Hot Springs is a destination resort of cabins set in a former ghost town in the San Juan National Forest, about 35 miles northeast of Dolores.
A 13-member jury returned the guilty verdict after a four-day trial last week in Dove Creek with District Court Judge Todd Plewe presiding. A jury was selected on Monday, evidence was presented Tuesday and Wednesday, and attorneys made closing arguments Thursday before the jury deliberated for about three hours.
Sentencing is set for 11 a.m. Dec. 16 in Dove Creek. Generally, a conviction of class 4 sexual assault carries a prison term of 4-12 years, a fine of $2,000-$500,000, and a parole of 3 years. However, the court may issue a lighter sentence.
In opening arguments Tuesday, District Attorney Will Furse, of Colorado’s 22nd Judicial District, claimed that, after taking the photos, Sopiwnik admitted in person and in Facebook messages to assaulting the woman.
“This is not a he-said, she-said case,” Furse said. “This is a case that includes graphic images of sexual assault.”
Sopiwnik’s attorney, Ingrid Alt, argued in opening statements that her client did not confess to a crime. She said the victim became aware that Sopiwnik had been talking to his former girlfriend, and she became jealous. She said the graphic photos were taken consensually, and the victim decided to use the photos against Sopiwnik out of jealousy.
“The prosecution wants to tell part of the story,” Alt said.
On the witness stand Tuesday, the victim said she went through Sopiwnik’s phone without his permission on July 12, 2015, discovering the photos and videos. She said she had no recollection of the photos or videos being taken, which depicted Sopiwnik lifting up her shirt and penetrating her as she slept, she said. Sopiwnik’s face was not visible in the photos, but the victim identified his hands, stomach and genitals in the photos.
Alt said the couple smoked marijuana together, including a concentrated cannabis oil known as “dabs.” Alt said the victim would become “unconscious” and “comatose” after smoking large amounts, which would have prevented her from waking up if she was being moved.
The victim testified that the couple did not take consensual intimate photos such as the photos presented in the case, and she did not pretend to be unconscious or asleep during consensual sex. In a July 2015 probable cause affidavit, the victim told a Dolores County Sheriff’s deputy she was a light sleeper and believed Sopiwnik was drugging her before the assaults.
She also testified that she did not notify police of the assaults until four days after discovering the photos, waiting until after a family camping trip to Rico to contact the Dolores County Sheriff’s Office. Through tears, she testified that she was distraught and in denial after finding the pictures.
“Even though the truth was in front of me, it’s really hard to accept something like that,” she said.
She testified that she asked Sopiwnik via Facebook Messenger why he would do this to her, and he said he was sorry and that there was something wrong with him. She said she asked why he would rape her, and he said he had no answer to that question. Sopiwnik also said, “I’m a sick individual and have no excuse,” according to an affidavit.
Alt contended that the remarks did not represent a confession of guilt. There was no evidence to reveal what act Sopiwnik was apologizing for in those messages, Alt said.
Furse stood by his assertion that the photos were convincing evidence against Sopiwnik.
“There are a number of extremely graphic photos, and (the victim) found them,” he said.
Alt suggested the Dolores County Sheriff’s Department investigation was not thorough. She cautioned the jury to put aside feelings of sympathy and listen to the evidence.
“It’s not about what you like or don’t like,” she said. “It’s about whether the prosecution meets the burden of proof.”
In an email statement, Furse thanked the jurors for bringing the defendant to justice.
“Through verdicts such as this, it is my hope that victims of sexual assault and domestic violence may be encouraged to come forward and speak out against their abusers,” Furse said. “As a community, we must respond to the words of sexual assault victims with trust, belief, and compassion.”