The Idaho Supreme Court has ruled that a man convicted of rape more than 10 years ago will have the opportunity to argue that his attorney was ineffective in his defense following a decision made last week by the highest court in Idaho.
The Supreme Court ruling on Feb. 18 came after eight years of litigation between Jeffrey Marsalis and the state. Marsalis filed a petition for post-conviction relief on Dec. 26, 2012, according to court records. He had previously filed an appeal with the Idaho Court of Appeals arguing that the grand jury indictment used to prosecute him in the rape case should be thrown out because, he said, a police officer involved in the case perjured himself on the stand during the grand jury proceedings. The appeals court ruled in September 2011 that the evidence presented during the proceeding was sufficient for an indictment, according to reporting by the Associated Press.
Post-conviction relief is a procedure that allows a criminal defendant to bring more evidence or raise additional issues in a case after a judgment. If the court rules in favor of the defendant’s appeal, he or she may be given a retrial or a lesser sentence.
In his petition, Marsalis argued that his trial counsel at the time, Blaine County attorney Doug Nelson, was ineffective for failing to challenge the state’s expert witness, failing to present an expert witness to discuss the scientific basis behind Marsalis’s blackout defense, failing to present favorable eyewitness testimony at trial and failing to properly advise him of his speedy trial rights.
Fifth District Judge Jonathon Brody ruled on Oct. 18, 2017, to dismiss the petition for post-conviction relief and Marsalis filed an appeal to that ruling the following month.
In 2019, the Idaho Supreme Court issued an unpublished opinion, affirming in part and reversing in part the District Court’s decision. In response, the state filed a petition for review that ultimately led to the Feb. 18 ruling remanding the case to District Court for an evidentiary hearing on Marsalis’ claim that Nelson was ineffective for failing to challenge the state’s expert witness and failing to present an expert witness to discuss the scientific basis behind his blackout defense.
According to Blaine County Court Clerk Heidi Schiers, an order remanding the case back to Blaine County District Court has not yet been received. According to prosecutor Jim Thomas, the state will not be appealing the Supreme Court’s decision. Judge Brody will likely schedule the case for a status conference to ensure Marsalis has legal counsel before scheduling an evidentiary hearing, Thomas said.
Marsalis, now 46, was convicted of rape following a jury trial in Ada County in 2009. The rape occurred on Oct. 9, 2005. Marsalis was working for Sun Valley Co. as a security guard when he drugged and raped a 21-year-old co-worker at his Sun Valley apartment. In 2008, the Blaine County Prosecutor’s Office filed a request for temporary custody of Marsalis, who at the time was serving a 21-year prison sentence in Pennsylvania for a conviction on two lesser charges of sexual assault in 2007.
Marsalis was tried in Philadelphia twice for allegedly drugging and raping a total of 10 women, but he was acquitted of all rape charges and only convicted of the two lesser charges, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
A jury of 10 men and two women convicted Marsalis in the Idaho rape case and 5th District Judge Daniel Hurlbutt Jr. sentenced him to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 15 years. Hurlbutt also ordered that the sentencing be consecutive with the Pennsylvania conviction, meaning Marsalis must serve his sentence there before being transferred to Idaho to serve a minimum of 15 years.
Since his conviction, Marsalis has been the center of several documentary-dramas, including “Web of Lies,” a series by Investigation Discovery. And, he was the subject of a feature story on ABC’s “20/20.” During the Sun Valley rape case, a judge ruled to move the case to Ada County due publicity the case had garnered.
Beyond his three jury trials, Marsalis was also at one point being investigated by the FBI for impersonating a CIA agent. That investigation did not result in any federal charges.
The first jury trial in 2006 alleged two counts of rape of two women, of which Marsalis was acquitted. The second jury trial in 2007 alleged 25 counts of rape of seven women, for which he was found guilty of two counts of sexual assault.
He was still being investigated by Philadelphia police on date-rape allegations when the 2005 rape in Sun Valley occurred.