Lakeway man faces life sentence as sexual assault trial gets underway


Highlights

Defendant Saffa Bell, 55, has two additional pending sexual assault cases in Travis County.

The alleged victim, a 30-year-old Army vet, said he got sleepy after drinking a margarita Bell made for him.

A man who says he was drugged and raped by a co-worker just days after he moved to the Austin area two years ago isn’t much for mixed drinks.

He drinks Scotch and only Scotch, he told a Travis County jury on Tuesday. But he agreed to a margarita that a man he worked on construction with had prepared when the two were hanging out on a weeknight in September 2015 in Lakeway.

After a few sips, the man said he got strangely tired and went searching for a bed in his friend’s Champion Drive home. When he woke, he said the co-worker, Saffa Bell, was performing oral sex on him.

Bell, 55, is on trial for sexual assault, a second-degree felony that, if proven by the state, could send the Lakeway man to prison for life. The automatic sentence would be triggered by Bell’s 1989 conviction in Harris County for burglary of a habitation with intent to commit sexual assault.

Bell, who has two other sexual assault cases pending in Travis County, arrived in court from jail in a blue suit, glasses, and with shorter hair than he had at the time of his arrest. He pleaded not guilty, but otherwise did not speak openly in court. His attorney, Jon Evans, delivered a short opening statement, suggesting prosecutors will not be able to prove their case, without elaborating.

The jury of eight women and five men — a group that includes an undetermined alternate juror — has not been informed of Bell’s possible life sentence, nor have they been told about his other pending sexual assault cases. A woman has made a similar complaint, telling police that in July 2014 she grew tired after drinking a glass of wine Bell had poured for her at a rental home. She said she woke to Bell having sex with her, according to the arrest affidavit. Another complainant says Bell raped her in February 2013 at his home after he responded to her online advertisement for entertainment services.

READ: Murder case dropped after medical examiner’s flip-flop

The alleged victim in the current trial is a 30-year-old Army veteran who is married with a child. He said he relocated to Austin from East Texas days before the attack, responding to an online posting from a property owner who needed help with maintenance jobs. Bell worked for the property owner.

On the night of the incident, the man said he phoned Bell to continue a conversation from earlier in the day about moving furniture into Bell’s place. Bell said he was not in the mood, but that the man should still come over and they could drink and “jam out.” Bell had a guitar; the other man was learning the harmonica.

As the two thumbed through an interior design catalog, the man said he downed five or six ounces of Scotch starting at about 8 p.m. He said Bell then insisted that he try a margarita, which he did, before setting it down after a few sips.

“This is where it starts getting fuzzy,” the man testified.

He added: “It was more than just being tired like I’ve-worked-all-day-tired. It’s something I’ve never experienced in my life. It was definitely like, right now, go to sleep, go find somewhere to lay down, you’re not OK.”

The man testified that after waking up during the assault, he put on his clothes and stormed out of the house. A neighbor testified that the man came to her door at about 1 a.m. and begged for her to turn on the lights outside of her home. She said he acted strangely, dancing and not communicating. She said she thought he was high on drugs. She called 911.

Police arrived, and according to a video shown to the jury, the man complained Bell had raped him. The man was often incoherent, speaking in disjointed sentences that were unresponsive to the officer’s questions.

“He had to have given you something,” the officer said.



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