US wrestler cites pressure to waive jury trial in abuse case
IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — A U.S. wrestler who spent years in prison for a sexual assault he denies testified Thursday that he was pressured by his college coach and his lawyers to waive his right to a jury trial — a decision the prosecutor called ridiculous.
Jordan Holm, 35, is seeking to overturn his conviction in the 2002 sexual assault of a University of Iowa student, arguing that he received ineffective assistance from his lawyers. Judge Lars Anderson finished hearing testimony Thursday, saying he would “sort through the evidence” and rule in coming months after receiving written closing arguments.
Holm was convicted of assaulting a woman after an off-campus party in Iowa City in September 2002. The former two-time Minnesota high school champion was a star 20-year-old University of Northern Iowa wrestler at the time.
Holm spent nearly seven years in prison, maintaining his innocence. Following his release in 2010, he became a four-time U.S. Open champion in the Greco-Roman discipline and made the U.S. team for the world championships from 2013 through 2015. Holm reached the semifinals of the U.S. Olympic Team Trials last year, but he saw his dream of reaching the Olympics dashed when he was upset.
Holm testified at the Johnson County courthouse Thursday that he waived his right to a jury trial “with great reluctance” at the insistence of his lawyers, who had been recommended by then-UNI Coach Brad Penrith. Holm said he opposed the decision but went along with it because he was trying to be responsive to his coach, who urged him to follow his lawyers’ advice on the matter.
Holm’s lawyers believed he couldn’t get a fair trial because Johnson County was inflamed over the special treatment a star Iowa basketball player received in a recent sex abuse case. A judge later found Holm guilty of third-degree sexual abuse after a bench trial.
Holm said he believed his lawyers were looking out for UNI’s interests rather than his own and were trying to keep the case out of the public spotlight. Holm noted that he wasn’t suspended following his arrest and the school allowed him to wrestle through his sophomore year as he awaited trial, even reaching the NCAA tournament.
Victoria Cole, a former assistant county attorney who prosecuted Holm, testified Thursday that she thought the defense’s decision to waive a jury trial was ridiculous because local juries are notoriously pro-defendant. She called the liberal-leaning area “The People’s Republic of Johnson County.”
Cole recalled Judge Denver Dillard urging both sides to reach a last-minute plea agreement on a lesser charge after telling them he planned to find Holm guilty. Cole said she declined the offer, saying the trial was over.
Holm said he and his lawyers had been confident all along he would be exonerated because they believed the DNA evidence didn’t match the woman’s allegations. Investigators found a trace of Holm’s DNA on the woman’s thigh but none on her genitals, and he argued Thursday that showed “there’s no possible way” any sexual acts occurred.
“I didn’t do anything wrong,” he said.
Cole said she believed DNA evidence supported the woman’s claim, adding that she was credible. The woman testified at trial that Holm performed a sex act on her while she was sleeping and fled after she woke up.
Peter Persaud, a Johnson County public defender who had no involvement in Holm’s original case, testified Thursday that he would never waive a jury trial in a sexual abuse case. He said he also wouldn’t recommend a bench trial in front of Dillard, who had been a career prosecutor.
AP wrestling writer Luke Meredith contributed.