A former UW-Madison student was found not guilty Wednesday of a felony sexual assault charge, though he seemingly admitted to sexually assaulting a sleeping peer in a campus residence hall in 2015.
Following a two-day trial, a jury in the Dane County Circuit Court ruled 21-year-old Nicholas Ralston of Shellsburg, Iowa will be acquitted of third-degree sexual assault.
Ralston, who was expelled months after the assault, reportedly initiated nonconsensual oral sex with his roommate’s girlfriend in their Ogg Hall dorm room in April 2015, according to the criminal complaint.
The victim and her boyfriend fell asleep on a futon in the dorm room after returning from a party around 1 a.m., the complaint said. She woke up at approximately 3 a.m. to Ralston—whom she, at the time, thought was her boyfriend—putting his penis in her mouth. Ralston also placed the victim’s hand on his penis during the assault, which she testified lasted between five and 10 minutes.
Ralston told police the next day, according to the complaint, that he did not remember assaulting the victim, but if she said he did then it “must be true.” In a group message to friends that same day, he wrote, “Just so all of you know, I sexually assaulted [the victim] last night and will be living in Tripp for the rest of the year.”
But the defense said Ralston only made those admissions to the assault because the victim convinced him it happened.
“Nick trusted [the victim] and believed her,” said attorney Adam Welch. “That’s not a confession. It’s good character.”
Hammering away at a lack of physical evidence found on the defendant’s penis following the assault, Welch argued the victim could have mistaken her boyfriend for Ralston in the dimly-lit dorm room, adding that she was drunk and couldn’t “coherently piece together” the night.
In cross-examination, Assistant District Attorney Tracy McMiller—noting a window in the dorm room allowed enough light in to identify a person—said it was clear Ralston "took advantage of and sexually assaulted [the victim] at her most vulnerable.”
Peter Coutu contributed to this report.