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Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014

Missionary, police testify against man accused of BYU gropings

By Wendy Leonard, Deseret News

Published: Thu, Aug. 28 1:55 p.m. MDT

 Nathan Fletcher stands with his attorney, John Allan, in a Provo court on June 5, 2014. Fletcher is charged with two counts of sexual battery, a class A misdemeanor, in connection with two groping cases at BYU.

Nathan Fletcher stands with his attorney, John Allan, in a Provo court on June 5, 2014. Fletcher is charged with two counts of sexual battery, a class A misdemeanor, in connection with two groping cases at BYU.

(Jeremy Harmon)

PROVO — A former BYU student now serving an LDS mission testified Thursday against a man accused of grabbing her breasts while he was jogging on campus earlier this year.

"It was kind of like being punched in the face, only it was worse because it's not your face," the woman said during a preliminary hearing in 4th District Court.

Nathan Eric Fletcher, 23, is facing two counts of sexual battery, a class A misdemeanor, that stem from reports of 16 women who claim they were groped as they passed by someone on campus earlier this year. Fletcher, however, is charged with just two incidents, on March 15 and March 19.

BYU police have reported at least one additional groping case since Fletcher's arrest, during Education Week, Aug. 19-22, on campus.

While Fletcher isn't named as a suspect in all 16 cases, he was the only jogger located on any surveillance video across campus on the day that the missionary witness reported to have been groped, said BYU police detective David Styer Jr.

Fletcher provided an alibi for all 16 attacks, including the March 15 attack of the missionary and the March 19 attack of another woman for which he is facing charges. He told police he was "jogging" those two days, but not on campus, which could not be confirmed or dispelled, Styer said.

In each case, police reports indicate that a man either jogged past a woman, or a group of women, and grabbed at them as he ran by, or casually stood and waited for them to walk by him before attacking.

For the two cases in question, a man can be seen on video quickly reaching toward at least one of the women he passes. Much of the video, however, is pixelated, shot from a distance and/or the person depicted is blurry.

The 19-year-old Pennsylvania woman who testified in court said she recognized the accused jogger on surveillance video obtained from the school because of the short shorts he was wearing on the day she remembers being groped.

However, she was not able to pick Fletcher out of a lineup presented to her by Styer after the attack.

"They were extremely short shorts, I would remember that," she testified Thursday. She also said the man who groped her was dressed "flamboyantly" and "very immodestly."

"His shorts revealed a very large portion of his legs, which were long and thin and very pale," the woman read from a written report she filed with Provo police.

Ann Haymond, BYU track and field team office manager, told the court she recognized "something incredibly familiar" about the video surveillance shown to the entire team in March. Police had hoped the team might recognize the jogger in the video.

"I see hundreds of athletes every year. I don't always remember names, but I do remember faces and things that are familiar," Haymond said, adding that she heard someone say "Nate," and said, "Immediately for me, it was Nate Fletcher."

"I've seen his gait, I recognize that," she said. "It was very easy."

Haymond said it was clear the suspect in the videos was wearing exclusive track team-issued clothing.

Upon seeing surveillance video, BYU track and field head coach Ed Eyestone said he was "pretty ticked off someone would be wearing a BYU uniform doing these things."

"This is definitely BYU track gear," Eyestone said, adding that the clothing seen on the jogger in the video was issued to the BYU track team in the 2009-10 school year, when Fletcher was a member of the team.

Eyestone said there were several characteristics he recognized as Fletcher's, including "blond hair and puffy cheeks," a specific shoe and running style. He said Fletcher, along with more than 50 percent of runners, have a heel-strike motion.

"The last person I thought would be responsible for the BYU gropings would be someone on the BYU track team," he said.

Eyestone said that along with other members of the current team, he, too, was "crestfallen" when he realized the groper could be Fletcher. He said the case had been in the news and on the minds of several students, faculty and community members, as there had been no arrest after three months of attacks.

The missionary witness, the only victim to testify against Fletcher, said she and her roommate had just been to the BYU Creamery outlet on March 15, where she purchased an apple because she had missed dinner that night. The two were on their way to a church meeting on campus.

"As we got onto the sidewalk, we turned the corner and I saw a man jogging toward us," she said. "When he passed us, he reached out and groped me in the breasts."

She said she called police about five to 10 minutes after the attack.

Fletcher was banned from campus property on April 1, and the charges were filed on April 11. An additional witness is expected to testify when the preliminary hearing continues on Sept. 25 at 1:30 in Provo.

John Allan, defense attorney for Fletcher, said the video evidence may not hold up in court. He said a lot of the witnesses who testified were making speculations.

"No victim has identified him and we have track members looking at video that, in my opinion, is very grainy and you can't tell it is him," Allan said. "A lot of people are making assumptions that aren't depicted in the videos themselves."

Allan was not allowed to bring up details of the other 14 cases, as they don't relate to the charges. He said it won't hurt Fletcher's case.

Fletcher's wife, Christa Fletcher, sat next to his parents in the courtroom during Thursday's hearing, along with a number of other family members and friends.

When the hearing resumes in a month, Judge Roger Griffin is expected to decide whether there is enough evidence to order Fletcher to stand trial.

Email: wleonard@deseretnews.com

Twitter: wendyleonards

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1. mufasta
American Fork, UT,
Aug. 28, 2014

Crazy. I hope they can get this sorted out. If it is him, I hope they can do whatever it takes to mitigate the potential risk to anybody he comes into contact with in the future.

2. Garbluck
Provo, UT,
Aug. 28, 2014

Poor Guy. His history adds up though. I hope he can get over his lusts ASAP.

3. Moracle
Blackshear, GA,
Aug. 28, 2014

A while ago I went to a bank ATM machine being observed over camera by the bank manager. As I was leaving, she came running out and said: "You can't do that!"

I asked: "Do what?"

"You took an ATM card left in the machine by someone else."

"No, I didn't."

"Oh, yes you did, I saw you over the ATM camera!"

Then a man wearing a shirt like mine came out of the bank. She ran to him saying: "You can't take an ATM card from the machine!" He had taken it inside. If he had not come out,I don't know what I would have been charged with, but in her mind, she knew I was the one, until she saw the real one.

My point is: be sure you're identifying the right person because it is very easy to misidentify a person seen for a brief moment -- especially at night. Mine was in open daylight.

I could have ATM card theft on my record if the guy had taken the card.

4. I know it. I Live it. I Love it.
Provo, UT,
Aug. 28, 2014

This nothing more than "He said/She said"!

The only witness couldn't pick him out in a line up. Plus video, pixelated enough to not identify a face, is not enough to identify gait- especially as the office manager was influenced.

"Well, the blurry video reminds me of..."
"Nate?"
"Yeah! Nate!... it must be him!"

See the problem?

A lot of weak corroboration doesn't make something true. I've never seen a case this weak before.

What's more, I live in Provo. There are more joggers here and people in shape than I've ever seen. Someone recently visiting here for the first time said the same thing. There are more people with the same clean-cut lifestyle who look similar that it's noticeable... enough to understand why the missionary couldn't identify him (shock & memory aside). Furthermore, the track team roster at BYU isn't short. Google it. I'm not saying this guy is innocent. I'm just saying I can't believe we'd arrest and charge him on a pile of no real evidence. Catching someone isn't more important than catching the right someone. Anything less isn't true or honest.

5. toosmartforyou
Farmington, UT,
Aug. 28, 2014

How very uncomfortable it must have been for his wife to attend the legal proceeding.