BRECKENRIDGE — A Bailey, Colorado, man was exonerated from a felony sexual assault charge Wednesday afternoon following a two-day trial at the Summit County Justice Center.
Travis James Darnell, 35, was accused of sexually assaulting a woman too inebriated to consent to sex during a wedding at Copper Mountain Resort last summer. After about a day and a half of witness testimony — including the deposition of Darnell and his accuser — the jury found that he was not guilty.
The case stemmed from an incident in June 2018 during a wedding at the top of Copper Mountain. The accuser, a university student from Texas, was attending as a guest with her mother. Darnell was hired as the wedding photographer for the event.
While the portrayals of how the series of events played out that night differed considerably, both sides largely agreed that Darnell and the woman met toward the end of the reception at JJ’s Rocky Mountain Tavern, left together minutes later and had sex in Darnell’s truck in the parking lot.
The key question, and the vital component of the case, was whether the woman was too drunk to consent.
During her testimony, the accuser noted that she’d been drinking the entire day, beginning at a salon with her mother and the bridal party that morning and continuing throughout the reception.
The woman said she had “chunks” of vivid memory along with other moments she doesn’t remember at all, which she attributed to heavy drinking that night.
She said that at the end of the night, Darnell sat down in front of her outside on the patio, encouraged her to keep drinking and, after a few minutes of conversation, slid his hand up her dress. She noted she cringed and pulled away at the move. The woman said Darnell then asked if she wanted to leave with him, and she accepted, assuming he simply wanted to walk her back to the hotel room she was sharing with her mother.
The woman said instead of going to the hotel, Darnell took her to his truck, holding her up as she stumbled her way through the parking lot.
She said Darnell got in the truck first — into a camping shell in the truck bed. At this point, the woman said she knew he was looking for a sexual encounter but let him help her into the truck regardless.
The two had sex twice, though the woman maintains it was not consensual. She noted that while she never said “no” or that she wanted to stop, she also never gave explicit consent and said she remembers telling him she wanted to go back to her room during sex.
After the encounter, she returned to her hotel room alone. She didn’t reach out to police until she was back in Texas, where she also completed a sexual assault examination. The case was turned over to the Summit County Sheriff’s Office via the Frisco Police Department in early August.
During Darnell’s testimony, he said the woman came on to him first, and that the sexual encounter was consensual. He said the woman approached him toward the end of the reception and said they should “hang out” later, which he interpreted as a sexual advance. Darnell said he also was inebriated that night.
Darnell corroborated that the two talked again on the patio minutes later but said the woman touched him first, placing her hand on his knee before he reciprocated. He noted that he knew she had been drinking, but said she wasn’t overly drunk during their interactions.
He said the two left for his truck and, while she did latch onto him during the walk, she wasn’t stumbling or showing any signs of trouble walking. Darnell said the two had a brief conversation about protection and that the woman got in the truck first. After the encounter, Darnell said the woman kissed him goodbye and left on her own back to the hotel. He said the woman never said she wanted to stop or go home.
During his closing arguments, Jake Lilly, who served as the prosecutor on the case along with Kylie Whitaker, slammed Darnell for what he called a loose standard of consent that night, noting that just because someone “didn’t object” to sex doesn’t necessarily mean it was consensual. Lilly also emphasized that just because the woman might have put herself in a bad situation that night, Darnell was still responsible for taking advantage.
“You don’t get to have sex with a falling-down girl because she didn’t object,” Lilly said. “That was his standard that night. That was his standard one minute into meeting her. … There is no doubt she made mistakes that day, that she drank herself way beyond the point she should have and took a walk home with a man she never should have trusted … but in no way does that justify her being taken advantage of.”
Lilly also turned the conversation to whose testimony should be believed — pointing to the fact that Darnell had lied to police in the early stages of the investigation and refused to give a DNA sample and that it’s unlikely the accuser would go through a sexual assault examination, come back to Colorado and testify in court about that night if she wasn’t assaulted.
Craig Truman, Darnell’s attorney, noted his client lied to police initially in a “foolish” attempt to hide his infidelity and characterized the accusation of sexual assault as buyer’s remorse.
“She goes home to Austin and starts talking with her friends,” Truman said. “And she’s in a box. She has to say what happened. It can’t be that I made a foolish mistake. So there must be a reason. It has to be strong drink and pot. And it has to be someone taking advantage of me. I’m going to have to say I can’t remember, and that I was in a blackout drunk. … This is a case of two sad people on their saddest day, fueled by alcohol. They hook up and feel awful.”
Truman also harshly criticized the Sheriff’s Office investigation of the incident, noting the lead detective on the case never attempted to recover surveillance footage of the parking lot nor did he speak with bartenders or other witnesses at the wedding who might have been able to provide further insight into the woman’s level of inebriation that night.
Ultimately, the jury sided with Darnell, returning with a
not guilty verdict following a short deliberation.
“We believe the jury heard the evidence and made the decision they thought was correct,” Truman said. “And we agree with that decision.”