ALPENA – Nicholas Skaluba deserves a new trial, according to a lawyer arguing before the Michigan Court of Appeals last month.
In 2019, a jury found Skaluba guilty of drugging and sexually assaulting two girls in Alpena in 2016. A judge sentenced him to at least 16 years in prison.
Lindsay Ponce, assistant to the public defender at the State Appeal Defender’s Office, told the appeals court that during the Skaluba trial, statements by then-Alpena County District Attorney Ed Black, had biased the jury against Skaluba, making a fair decision impossible.
According to Ponce, Black encouraged the jury, as they weighed their decision on Skaluba, to think about all the survivors of sexual assault who find it hard to be believed.
Arrest of Skaluba and Tommy Hein, sentenced to 90 days in jail in a Skaluba-related case, led to protests in downtown Alpena when Hein received a sentence that many believed was too light .
Given these protests and a national concern over the treatment of survivors of sexual assault during the #MeToo movement, Black’s reference to other survivors created irreparable prejudice and pressure on the jury, Ponce said. .
“Some of the comments are so inflammatory that the bell simply cannot be stopped,” the lawyer told the appellate judges.
Black also referred to the survivors’ underwear as Skaluba Trophies, although testimony indicated that Skaluba may never have had these items in his possession, according to Ponce.
Additionally, an intentional error or oversight by Skaluba’s lawyers limited the testimony of an expert witness, creating more unfair prejudice, Ponce argued.
Black’s reference to other survivors did not call on jurors their civic duty to convict, but rather explained why survivors of sexual assault are afraid to tell their stories, responded a state lawyer.
Black’s comments were “a ‘fix it’ kind of thing,” but such comments did not unduly bias the jury, nor did the other issues Ponce raised, the attorney said.
The appeals court will decide whether to overturn Skaluba’s conviction and order a new trial. He has not released a timeline for this decision.
Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693, [email protected] or on Twitter @jriddleX.