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System Failure

Two years after being sexually abused, Laura Sabien wants full justice.



aura Sabien runs for her health—and for her family. As a self-employed housekeeper and single mom, taking care of three kids keeps her busy. She’s a small and pretty 42, but with a tough look, an air of confidence that suggests she’d just as well stand and fight as have to run. But two years ago, Laura found that she could neither fight nor flee. Laura was sexually abused by a man for whom she worked, a man who bragged about his money and family connections—connections which, in the end, could not keep him out of jail. Then the system sputtered and released him early. Now the men who are responsible for incarcerating him are passing the buck.

Laura Sabien is fed up, and wonders who in the justice system is on her side.

On March 15, 2002, following a three-day trial, Michael Kooyman was convicted of forcibly sexually abusing Laura Sabien. It was just four days short of an emotionally draining year since Kooyman had backed his car into her Pathfinder at his home, the incident that triggered the series of events that led to the assault. City Weekly made four attempts to interview Kooyman for this story, by phone and in person.

Sabien looked shaky and nervous in a conservative gray suit in court last March 13 as she told the jury her story. She testified that a friend had referred her to the 29-year-old Kooyman in October, 2001 because he was looking for someone to clean his home. Upon meeting him, she asked what he did for a living. “Nothing. I just fuck around,” she testified he told her, and bragged about his family’s money.

Sabien told City Weekly in an interview after the trial that during the five months she worked for Kooyman, he made a point of being home when she was there, even after she changed her schedule to avoid him. She told the jury that he showed her pornography and made overt sexual comments almost every time she saw him. “You’re so good to me, you’re like the mother I never had. When can we breast feed?” she testified that Kooyman said to her. “You’re kind of like family to me. You’re the only girl in Salt Lake City besides my sister and my mother that I haven’t fucked.” At trial, the prosecuting attorney asked Kooyman if he’d made sexual comments to Sabien and Kooyman testified, “Sometimes we told a joke.”

About a month after working for Kooyman, Sabien had a dinner party on Thanksgiving. She told City Weekly that she had invited Kooyman because a friend of his who had done some electrical work on her home planned on coming, and she thought having Kooyman there would make the friend feel comfortable.

At trial, Sabien testified that it was at this dinner party that she first heard about gamma hydroxy butyrate (GHB) from Kooyman, who she said had brought some with him. “He was at my house for a short time and he had brought it in a small bottle and was bragging about it and asking my guests if they were interested.”

In his testimony, Kooyman denied that he brought GHB to the party. But Sabien’s friend, Tyson Enniss, who attended the party, told the jury that Kooyman had GHB in his possession, showed it to Enniss and offered him GHB at the party.

Sabien also testified that Kooyman told her at other times while she was cleaning his home not to throw out his “G,” and explained to her that he kept GHB in water bottles around his home.

So within a month of going to work for Kooyman, Sabien already had plenty of reasons to doubt his trustworthiness. At the trial, Kooyman’s attorney, Stephen McCaughey, pressed the point, questioning Sabien’s judgment in continuing to work for Kooyman.

McCaughey asked Sabien to recall a March 23 police interview, during which she told police that she thought Kooyman was a jerk. “If you thought he was a jerk,” McCaughey asked, “and he was showing you this pornography and making sexual innuendos, why didn’t you quit?”

Sabien responded that the sexual comments, pornography and alleged drug use didn’t bother her enough to cause her to, in her words, “run away.” She testified that she did take steps, such as moving her cleaning day to Monday, the day that Kooyman had a noon class at Westminster College.

Sabien told City Weekly that in addition to changing her work day, she also changed the way she dressed in case Kooyman was around. “A lot of times, I’d go to work in shorts and a tank top,” she told City Weekly. “But when I went to his house I would wear running pants and a big T-shirt.”

But the main reason she stuck with it, she testified, was because she was just getting her business started and “needed the work.” She said she had planned to replace Kooyman’s business, and even had a quote scheduled on Monday, March 19, 2001, for a possible client in Draper: She never made it to the appointment.

Sabien testified that she arrived at Kooyman’s home at around 10:30 a.m. that day to clean. Sabien said Kooyman was home when she arrived, and that he remained at home until 1 p.m. While backing his car from the driveway, Kooyman ran into Sabien’s car, which was parked on the street. Kooyman drove Sabien to a rental car dealer and rented her a car. They went back to Kooyman’s home to wait for the tow truck and insurance adjuster to arrive. Sabien testified that she canceled her next cleaning job, and her quote in Draper. Kooyman offered to take Sabien out for dinner and she declined. When he offered her a margarita, she accepted. According to Sabien, this was between 5:30 p.m. and 6 p.m.

Kooyman’s version at the trial differed in a small but significant way. He testified that the accident occurred about 11:45 p.m. and that he offered Sabien a drink sometime prior to 5 p.m. According to Kooyman’s testimony, the tow truck and insurance adjustor arrived around 5:15 p.m., and he gave Sabien her last drink, a second margarita, around 6 p.m. The time difference matters, because if he drugged Sabien with GHB, which was the state’s theory, the drug would have kicked in about 20 minutes after she drank it, according to expert testimony.

McCaughey asked why, if Sabien already had her rental car and she didn’t like Kooyman, did she stay and have a drink?

“He kept saying ‘can I take you out to dinner,’ and I think he was genuinely sorry,” Sabien testified, “and he finally said, ‘Well, at least let me just make you a drink,’ and I said, ‘All right, a drink sounds good.’”

“I needed to know where my car was going,” she also testified, “and I wanted to make sure everything ran OK.”

Sabien testified that she called her 13-year-old daughter at 6 p.m. to say that she’d be home in an hour, and asked her to take pork chops out of the refrigerator to finish thawing. According to Sabien, the tow truck and insurance adjustor came and went, between 5:30 p.m. and 6 p.m., and as Sabien prepared to leave, a car drove by, which turned out to be a male friend of Kooyman’s. Kooyman asked Sabien to stay and have another drink with him and his friend. Sabien accepted. She testified that Kooyman told her that this friend was the owner [he was actually the assistant manager] of a local restaurant. Because Sabien had also managed a local restaurant, she was interested in meeting him and agreed to stay for another drink. At this point, she asked Kooyman if she could change into a pair of women’s jeans, as she knew Kooyman had a pair in his bedroom because she washed and put away his clothes. Her running pants were dirty from cleaning, she testified.

Sabien told the jury that she drank a shot of tequila and a second margarita, and the three walked around Kooyman’s property, then into adjacent Tanner Park. They returned to a picnic table in Kooyman’s yard to finish their drinks.

Sabien told the jury that she couldn’t remember exactly when, but at one point Kooyman left and came back with two bottles of pre-mixed margaritas. He asked the two to stay and party. Sabien said they both declined—both the party and the drink. Kooyman’s friend left shortly thereafter.

At this point, Sabien testified, she went into the kitchen around 7:15 p.m., rinsed out her glass, gathered up her things and was about to head for the door when she began to feel immobilized. From that point on her memory is fragmented.

She remembered sitting on Kooyman’s couch, looking at his door and wondering why she couldn’t reach the door, or even move. She remembered him offering her a cigarette, even though she doesn’t smoke. She took the cigarette, but didn’t remember if she smoked it. She remembered he called someone. She remembered standing at the foot of his bed. She described to the jury that he moved her face with his hands and pointed to the bed while he said, “Look what you did. Look what I made you do,” Sabien testified that he had pointed to a wet spot on the bed, which Sabien recalled at trial as “about a foot in diameter.” In his trial testimony, Kooyman denied all this.

Sabien told the jury that the next thing she remembered was waking up on her own couch around 3:00 a.m., wearing the woman’s jeans from Kooyman’s house. She had no bra, no shoes and no socks. Kooyman testified that he couldn’t remember the clothes that Sabien left in, even though he remembered that her underwear was pink. “She may have had on some flip-flops from the closet,” he told the jury.

Sabien told the jury that after she woke up, she checked on her daughter, then showered. While in the shower, she felt her body. She said her nipples were sore and she felt a stinging sensation in her vagina.

“I’m concerned that my nipples are sore to the touch,” she said to the jury. “I’m concerned that I have a stinging sensation in my vagina. I’m concerned that my chest hurts. I’m concerned that my skin smells like chlorine. I’m concerned that I don’t like what has happened to me.” When she got out of the shower, she felt sick. She vomited, had diarrhea, a bloody nose and described feeling like she had bronchitis.

Dr. E. Martin Caravati is the medical director of Utah Poison Control Center, attending physician in the University Hospital’s ER, and teaches classes at the University of Utah’s School of Medicine. He is the only board-certified M.D. medical toxicologist in the state. He described the symptoms of the drug GHB to the jury, including amnesia, loss of muscle control, disinhibition, loss of consciousness and difficulty breathing. GHB is commonly known as the “date-rape” drug because of its potential to render a person unconscious or immobilized.

Dr. Caravati testified that, given the circumstances and Sabien’s symptoms, he thought that if any drug was used, it was likely GHB. However, Caravati told the jury, that partial memory wasn’t characteristic of GHB; usually if someone had GHB-induced amnesia, it was total. But Caravati also testified that his experience was primarily with people who had overdosed on the drug.

The defense countered Caravati with Dennis Couch, a forensic toxicologist and the co-director of the Center for Toxicology at the University of Utah, where he teaches analytical toxicology. Crouch testified that Sabien’s symptoms were more likely alcohol-related.

Sabien told the jury she called the Rape Crisis Center the next day, Tuesday, March 20, and someone at the center told her too much time had passed for a GHB test or a Code R exam—which examines a woman for semen, pubic hair, vaginal trauma and vaginal entry. Sabien said the crisis center told her that GHB leaves the system in less than 12 hours, and a Code R exam can only be performed in a 24-hour time period after an assault. Sabien did not have a Code R exam nor was she tested for GHB.

The following Wednesday night, Sabien testified, she called the Salt Lake City Police and an officer told her to call again the next day, Thursday morning, to speak with a detective. She did so, and Salt Lake City Police Detective Michael Richards set up an appointment with her for Friday. On Friday, Richards interviewed Sabien, and following the interview, he accompanied Sabien to her home. She gave him the underwear she said she had worn on the day of the assault. Richards tested the underwear for semen, and the test was negative.

McCaughey asked Sabien why she didn’t call the crisis center or the police sooner. Sabien testified that she was still ill the following day, had to work and be a mom and had to make a decision [whether to contact police] that would “impact her life and her daughter’s life.”

Detective Richards told the jury that officers went to Kooyman’s home the following Monday around 1 p.m.—the day Sabien was supposed to clean. According to photos introduced as evidence, police found Sabien’s bra on the floor of Kooyman’s bedroom, her tennis shoes in the computer room and her T-shirt in his bedroom hamper. Richards testified that police found “hundreds or maybe thousands” of pornographic photographs. Richards testified that Kooyman said during the search, “I didn’t fuck her, I just used my fingers.”

Detective Doug Lambert, who assisted Richards in the search, testified that police found beads, flyers and glow sticks usually associated with raves as well as women’s panties, anal beads, condoms and other sexual paraphernalia. Lambert told the jury that police did not find GHB.

According to a transcript of the preliminary hearing, police also found a cocaine sniffer, marijuana, ecstasy, nitrous oxide, psilocybin mushrooms, a 9 mm handgun, knife and shotgun in Kooyman’s home.

On April 17, 2001, the state charged Kooyman with forcible sexual abuse; four counts of unlawful possession of a controlled substance; use or possession of drug paraphernalia; psycho-toxic abuse; and purchase, transfer, possession, or use of a firearm by a restricted person.

By the time the case went to court, Assistant District Attorney Matthew Nielsen, who prosecuted the case, had lost one battle with Kooyman’s attorneys. Third District Judge Timothy Hanson ruled that the four drug counts and the firearm charge would be tried separately, ruling that those charges could prejudice the jury in the assault case. This prevented Nielsen from mentioning during the assault trial any of the drugs or weapons found in Kooyman’s home. However, because it was the state’s theory that Kooyman drugged Sabien with GHB before assaulting her, Nielsen was able to present evidence and question witnesses about GHB.

But the state didn’t have to prove that Kooyman drugged Sabien: It only had to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the sexual activity between Sabien and Kooyman was not consensual.

As defense attorney for Kooyman, McCaughey asked the jury to come to two different conclusions: That what happened between Kooyman and Sabien was consensual, and that Sabien’s legal pursuit of Michael Kooyman was motivated by money. McCaughey incorporated these assertions into his closing argument.

Kooyman testified that he did not drug Sabien’s drink and that everything that happened between them that night was consensual. “We had a shot of tequila and sat in the kitchen and talked for a moment,” Kooyman testified. “Had a cigarette. Offered her one. And she went back to get her clothes, and I walked back with her. We were just having a conversation. She was sitting on the edge of my bed and she was going to take off the sweatshirt, and in doing so she took off her shirt, and she showed me her breasts and she said, ‘not bad for a 40-year-old.’ She went to take off her pants and she unzipped my fly, handled my genitalia and licked the underside with her tongue. She had taken off her pants, and she put my hand onto her crotch and on the outside of her panties, I rubbed her crotch.”

Kooyman told the jury he put his fingers in her vagina “wiggled them around,” and after that, “she got up and said I need to get going. I have to get dinner on for my daughter. I had a great night and I’ll call you tomorrow.”

Referring to his contention that Sabien was after his client’s money, McCaughey at one point asked Sabien if she knew that Kooyman had a trust fund set up in his name. He asked if she knew he was buying his home. He asked if she looked at Kooyman’s bank statements and other financial documents while cleaning his home. Her answer to all three questions was “No.”

Ten days after Kooyman’s conviction, Sabien did file a civil suit against Kooyman but dropped it three months later. She told City Weekly she was exhausted from the trial and the emotional stress caused by an investigation conducted by Kooyman’s new attorney, James Bradshaw, who hired a private investigator. Sabien says the investigator visited her friends, clients and ex-boyfriends in Utah and her hometown in Illinois, asking questions about Sabien’s sexual history, prior drug use and financial circumstances.

But the big reason Sabien said she dropped the lawsuit was that Judge Hanson had yet to sentence Kooyman, and she didn’t want her suit to make it appear she was in it for the money: She wanted Kooyman in prison.

On Aug. 2, 2002, four and a half months after Kooyman was convicted, Judge Hanson pronounced sentence: an $18,500 fine (the maximum allowed for conviction of forcible sexual abuse), 36 months of probation and 365 days in jail. As part of his probation, the judge ordered Kooyman to pay for and complete alcohol and substance abuse treatment as well as “sexual deviancy” (Judge Hanson’s words) treatment.

Almost two months later, on Sept. 27, Kooyman plead guilty on the second set of charges to possession of a schedule one substance (psilocybin mushrooms), which is a third degree felony. Nielsen told City Weekly that he accepted Bradshaw’s plea bargain to dismiss the other charges in order to avoid putting Sabien through another trial. Hanson fined Kooyman $1,850 and gave him 365 days in jail to be served concurrently with his forcible sexual abuse sentence. With credit for the 140 days he’d served since the conviction, Kooyman’s release date was, according to Nielsen, March 15, 2003.

As this issue goes to press, Kooyman should still be in jail. It didn’t work out that way.

State law allows for a prisoner in jail to earn one day of good time—local parlance for “time off for good behavior”—for every 10 days served. For a sentence of 365 days, the most good time Kooyman could have earned is 37 days. A prisoner can earn additional good time for voluntary participation in jail programs, like art therapy, drug treatment or earning a GED (high school equivalency degree).

But at the Aug. 2 sentencing hearing, Judge Hanson was having none of that: “I am going to order the sheriff not to release you,” Hanson said during the hearing. “You’re not going to get any good time, and you’re not going to be released into some program that the sheriff may have in place to let you out during the day and bring you back at night … you’re going to sit in the jail for 365 days and you’re not going to get out.”

Four and a half months later, just before last Christmas, Kooyman was let out of jail 102 days early.

When she heard from Nielsen that Kooyman was free, Sabien freaked out. She tried to find out why, and what she could do about it. The short answer to the last question is nothing—although her chicken-hawk cry has raised a few eyebrows. The only two people who can put Kooyman back in jail to serve the remainder of his sentence—Judge Hanson and Salt Lake County Sheriff Aaron Kennard—are busy passing the buck.

According to Nielsen, Judge Hanson’s verbal instructions at the sentencing were unambiguous—Kooyman was not to receive good time off. But Hanson’s signed court order didn’t specifically say “no good time credit”—and the jail interpreted it accordingly.

“They [the jail] said that the order said ‘no early release,’” prosecutor Nielsen told the judge in a Jan. 10 motion to correct the sentence. “They interpret ‘no early release’ as being no ankle monitor, no home confinement, no release programs, no work release. It doesn’t have anything to do with good-time credit. They said the order has to specifically say ‘no good-time credit.’”

Nielsen had contacted the Salt Lake County Jail’s records department and learned that the sheriff had granted Kooyman good time for earning his GED while in jail. But, according to Kooyman’s testimony during the trial, he was enrolled at Westminster College before he went to jail.

Mary Hyland, director of admissions at the college, said Westminster does not admit students without high school diplomas—unless they are in a “concurrent enrollment” progam while still in high school. The school declined to confirm whether Kooyman had presented proof of high school graduation at the time of enrollment. But officials at the registrar’s office at Skyline High School told City Weekly that Kooyman graduated from the school in June of 1992 and received his high school diploma.

In addition, Paul Cunningham, Sheriff Aaron Kennard’s chief deputy, confirmed that Kooyman was given good time for earning his GED, but added that it was Granite School District which granted the GED and had made the program-eligibility decision.

Martin Bates, assistant to the superintendant for policy and compliance from Granite School District, told City Weekly that Kooyman “represented verbally, as well as in writing, that he had not graduated from high school.” Bates was unable to provide documentation, as he says, “school records are private information.” According to Bates, Granite doesn’t have record of which high school Kooyman attended, but maintains that Granite sent out requests for transcripts to more than one school—transcripts which Granite never received. Skyline High is part of Granite School District.

Last Jan. 10, Kooyman’s case was back in court with two opposing motions: Nielsen asked Judge Hanson to amend the court’s sentence to clearly say, “no good time,” and issue a court order to put Kooyman back in jail to serve the remainder of his sentence. James Bradshaw asked Hanson for a new trial on the forcible sexual abuse conviction. Hanson denied both motions. Bradshaw is appealing Kooyman’s conviction through the Utah Court of Appeals. Due to the appeal, Judge Hanson declined to be interviewed for this article.

Hanson refused to put Kooyman back in jail. “No … I can’t keep up with what the sheriff requires,” said Hanson, obviously piqued with what he considered a snafu on the part of the sheriff. “I thought it was supposed to be that the sheriff does what the court tells him to do, not that the judge does what the sheriff tells me to do. And we, apparently, can’t get that straight. And you’re talking to the wrong guy. I’ve entered an order and if the sheriff refuses to follow it, I don’t have anything I can do about it. He has all the guns.” Buck passed.

Chief Deputy Paul Cunningham said Kooyman’s release had nothing to do with the sheriff.

“The judge can, by law, say ‘no good time’ and we’ll work with the court,” Cunningham says. “The judge’s orders said ‘no early release,’ not ‘no good time.’”

But even if the jail makes a mistake and releases someone early, an officer needs a warrant or a court order to re-arrest—or does he?

“We would prefer a warrant,” says Cunningham, further throwing the matter into confusion. Buck passed back.

And as it turns out, it may have been that no one actually decided to release Kooyman—a computer may have made the decision. According to Cunningham, the jail secretary entered Kooyman’s sentence into the computer, which calculated good time, including the questionable GED, as he earned it, then came up with a release date—sort of like magic.

When asked about the judge’s comments, Sheriff Kennard told City Weekly it was the first he’d heard about the jail not following court orders. Kennard also said that he doesn’t know Kooyman.

So, where’s the Waldo of Kooyman’s early release? P. Kent Morgan is the assistant deputy and public information officer with the D.A.’s office. Without hesitation, Morgan places the burden of responsibility on Hanson’s shoulders. Even though the judge’s sentencing order was misinterpreted, Morgan says Hanson avoided responsibility by asserting that any confusion was the sheriff’s fault, and that ordering Kooyman’s re-arrest might have been an admission that his original order was faulty.

“Judge Hanson made the decision not to require the defendant to serve the balance of his term because he ruled that his order was not ambiguous,” says Morgan. “Judge Hanson could just have well have ruled that the release was contrary to his order and required the defendant to serve the balance of his sentence. Judge Hanson made a judicial decision. Judge Hanson is responsible for that decision.”

Jack Ford takes a diplomatic approach. Ford, spokesman for the Utah Department of Corrections, was not involved in the prosecution of Kooyman, but he believes that the sheriff doesn’t have the authority to release a prisoner early. And if the jail screwed up, the sheriff doesn’t need a court order to re-arrest.

But the way the system works, says Ford, “is if a judge puts you on probation and orders you to do nine months in county jail, the judge retains jurisdiction. The judge can let you out early or keep you in longer.” Hanson has jurisdiction over Kooyman until the end of his probation. Had Kooyman gone to prison, the judge would have given jurisdiction over to the board of pardons.

In prison, according to Ford, Kooyman would have been subjected to a psychological evaluation, participated in sex offender treatment, and gone before the board of pardons before his release. Salt Lake County Jail doesn’t have evaluations, a board of pardons or sex-offender treatment.

“We don’t normally get sex offenders,” says Cunningham.

Only Judge Hanson knows why he gave Kooyman a year in jail, when he could have given him up to 15 years in prison, but Hanson left some clues.

According to a video of the sentencing, Hanson said that if he sent Kooyman to prison, he believed Kooyman would be out in a year to a year and a half anyway, and Hanson would have given up jurisdiction. And if Kooyman screwed up, Hanson wanted to be able to do something about it. The judge said that he had taken into account Kooyman’s financial situation, in that he could afford treatment. And in view of budget constraints, Hanson said he didn’t want to burden the taxpayers with Kooyman’s treatment costs, which is who would have paid for his treatment had he been sentenced to prison.

It is also part of a judge’s presentencing report to consider letters sent to him by friends and family. In Kooyman’s case, the judge revealed one such letter: “I know your grandfather and I told you that early,” Hanson said to Kooyman. “I knew him when he was not the person who started a very large, very successful construction company. It was a little construction company then. It was out on the west side of town, just a trailer, there. That’s what he worked out of. He worked really hard. He was a good man. I’m confident that he’s very embarrassed by what you’ve done. And I know he doesn’t approve of this. But he’s also written me a letter telling me that he still thinks there’s some hope for you.”

As for Laura, she’s come full circle—from cowering victim to pissed-off survivor.

“Paper is desensitizing,” she says. “So is time.” She refers to the legal-paper trail stacked on her kitchen table, and the two years of time gone by since the assault.

“I had to make a choice,” she says. “Either to throw all this away and move on with my life, or to do something with it and continue to fight. And I couldn’t throw it away. I refuse to normalize his [Kooyman’s] behavior—like everyone else has done, and continues to do.”