By Joe Johnson
Potential witnesses against a former Athens bar owner accused of raping a woman in his establishment nearly two years ago must appear in court to face the defendant at a pretrial hearing regarding alleged prior similar sexual acts, a Superior Court judge recently ruled.
Last May, a prosecutor filed a motion stating that he expected to introduce evidence that 39-year-old David Ellis Ippisch had similarly sexually assaulted other women prior to him allegedly raping a woman on Nov. 23, 2019 at The Hedges, a bar he owned at the time on East Broad Street in downtown Athens.
Then last month, Assistant District Attorney Robert D. Schollmeyer filed a motion requesting that the potential witnesses, two of whom currently resided out of state, be allowed to testify remotely in the pretrial hearing in which witnesses would testify about being sexually assaulted by the bar owner.
However, Ippisch’s team of lawyers on May 28 filed an objection to the prosecutor's request on the grounds that Ippisch had a state and federal constitutional right to be confronted by witnesses against him and that state law specifically gives Ippisch “the right to confront a testifying witness.”
Additionally, the defense attorneys argued, a state Uniform Superior Court Rule regarding videoconferencing with witnesses is permitted, at the discretion of the presiding judge, for pretrial hearings in civil cases, but in criminal matters, “a timely objection must be sustained.”
Western Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Eric Norris sustained the defense objection in an order issued last Thursday, stating, “The parties and witnesses shall appear in-person for a pre-trial hearing on the State’s Notice and Supplemental Notices of Intent to Introduce Other Acts Testimony/Evidence.”
The hearing had yet to be scheduled as of Monday.
The issue over teleconferencing came four months after new details of the alleged rape at the Hedges were revealed in a prosecution motion.
At a 2019 bond hearing shortly after Ippisch was arrested, an Athens-Clarke County police detective suggested that the victim had been drugged prior to being raped in Hedges, a bar on East Broad Street that Ippisch’s owned at the time.
In a motion filed on Feb. 10, Schollmeyer took that inference further.
The motion was the prosecution’s response to a motion filed last May by Ippisch’s attorneys that asked a Superior Court judge to declare unconstitutional the Georgia Rape Shield Statute. The defense attorneys have also said that the sex Ippisch had with the victim was consensual.
In the motion, prior to arguing why the Rape Shield Law is constitutional, Schollmeyer laid out in detail how the assault allegedly occurred:
The prosecutor stated that on the night of Nov. 23, 2019 Ippisch gave the victim a drink that he got from a pre-mixed bottle despite the victim’s protest that she was the designated driver for a friend and that the victim subsequently “became disoriented and remembers very little of the events afterwards.“
Ippisch then asked the victim if she “wanted to have some fun,” the motion states, “and he pulled the victim up on a stage where other people were dancing. The Defendant told one of his ‘bouncers’ to not let the victim’s friend up on the stage with them,” Schollmeyer stated in his motion.
According to the motion, the victim texted to her friend that she wanted to leave because she didn’t feel safe around Ippisch.
Ippisch then “poured another drink like he had already given the victim down the victim’s throat,” Schollmeyer wrote in his motion.
After the friend managed to get up on the stage, Ippisch told her and the victim to exchange kisses, which the bar owner recorded with a cellphone, according to the motion, and soon after, the friend turned around saw that and Ippisch and the alleged victim were gone.
Schollmeyer continues in the motion: “The Defendant then forcibly dragged the victim” behind the stage to an area not visible to other bar patrons, taking a bar stool with him.
“Because the victim could not stand as a result of the effects of the drinks the Defendant had given her, the Defendant sat the victim on the bar stool where he raped her,” according to the motion. “The victim repeatedly told the Defendant ‘no’ but the Defendant continued the assault, stating, ‘I chose you.’”
After the alleged assault, Ippisch left the stage and the victim found her friend and immediately told her that she had been raped, according to the motion, which noted that the women took an Uber and found a police officer at a nearby restaurant.
A police investigation that night led to Ippisch being charged with kidnapping and rape. He was later indicted on those charges by a grand jury. He pleaded not guilty to both charges.
Other women subsequently came forward and claimed that they had also been assaulted by Ippisch.
With prosecutors apparently planning to introduce evidence of Ippisch’s sexual history and proclivities, his attorneys argue in the May 2020 motion that the Rape Shield statute violates the equal protection clauses of the U.S. and Georgia constitutions.
The intent of Georgia’s “rape shield law” s to keep the sexual history and behavior of victims from being used as evidence in a trial, with its purpose being to protect the privacy of the victim, and to encourage rape victims to report offenses and to participate in the prosecution of offenders.
According to the statute, “past sexual behavior may include, but is not limited to: “evidence of the complaining witness’ marital history, mode of dress, general reputation for promiscuity, non-chastity, or sexual mores contrary to the community standards. Neither the defense nor the prosecution—which may seek to draw attention to the alleged victim’s absence of sexual experience or her chastity—may offer evidence under this statute.”
In a Magistrate Court preliminary hearing, it was revealed that evidence seized by police from Ippisch’s apartment and the bar where the rape allegedly occurred included a list on Ippisch’s computer of 94 women he claims he had sex with. Some names were tagged with such terms as "stripper,” “friend,” and “aggressive but interesting.”
Police also reportedly found bondage straps on Ippisch’s bed, which were mentioned in one woman’s statement. The woman said she broke one of the straps during a struggle, and a detective testified that one strap appeared to have been repaired.
The defense motion argues that the shield law violates the U.S Constitution’s equal protection clause because it applies only to women, and not men. It asks the judge to prohibit the admission as evidence of Ippisch’s past sexual behavior.
“The inequality stems from archaic and overly broad generalizations about men’s and women’s sexuality: that society will more harshly and unjustly judge a woman for her sexual behaviors and preferences than it will a man; that only women should be shielded from their past sexual decisions; that men face no censure or derision for their sex lives; that men only are aggressors and women only are victims," the defense motion states. “Equal protection fails where the law cloaks the private lives of women but unveils the private lives of men...”
In the prosecution's rebuttal motion, Schollmeyer argues that the defense wants the judge to decide the constitutionality of the shield law “in isolation” without considering it in the context of other laws. The prosecutor argues in his motion that Georgia recognizes a legal doctrine that “directs the comparison of statutes for the purpose of reconciling apparent differences between them.”
The motion states, “This Court can reconcile that with the State’s need to prove intent in prosecutions involving sexual assault. Such need to prove intent involves putting into evidence prior and similar acts committed by the Defendant with other victims. In this case, the State has that evidence and should be allowed to introduce it to a jury."