RACINE — Inside a Racine County courtroom Wednesday, a Kenosha County ambulance crew member maintained composure as jurors acquitted him of sexually assaulting a female seizure patient en route to a Racine hospital.
It wasn’t until he made his way outside the courtroom, to his wife and mother-in-law, that Capt. Jodin D. Froeber began to weep, saying the past two years have been “hell.”
“It’s just really annoying going through and being accused of something,” said Froeber, 38, of Somers. “I’ve lost everything: car, house, dog. I had to pay for attorneys. My whole thing coming into this, the whole time, was I didn’t do this. I know in my heart this didn’t take place.”
Froeber’s wife of seven years, Jen, and his mother-in-law, Joyce Ade, also of Somers, immediately burst into quiet tears after the jury’s verdict was read aloud. The jury deliberated for about an hour Wednesday before declaring Froeber not guilty, ending his three-day trial.
Froeber had been charged with third-degree sexual assault, a Class G felony. It was punishable by a maximum of five years in prison and up to five years on extended supervision if he’d been convicted.
A Somers Fire and Rescue emergency medical technician, Froeber was accused 25 months ago of sexually assaulting a then-20-year-old Racine County woman in the back of an ambulance on July 19, 2011. That ambulance was en route to Wheaton Franciscan-All Saints hospital, 3801 Spring St., after the woman reportedly suffered several seizures while at a Girl Scout camp just over the border in Kenosha County.
They were headed from Trefoil Oaks Program Center in Somers, where summer day camp programs are offered, according to witness testimony and the Girl Scouts of Wisconsin-Southeast.
Witnesses testified this week that the drive lasted 12 minutes.
The woman staunchly maintained during her testimony on Tuesday that a member of that crew sexually assaulted her three times in the back of the vehicle, but she didn’t see his face.
Froeber was the only person in the back of the ambulance with the woman while traveling to the hospital, several witnesses said.
She testified that Froeber lifted her shirt, camisole and bra up over her face, that she heard two “clicks” as from an iPhone camera before Froeber slid his hand down the woman’s pants and fondled her twice.
The woman’s name is not being released because of the nature of the charges.
Assistant District Attorney Jeremy Arn said during closing arguments Wednesday: “This was a perfect storm for a sexual assault: The defendant was alone in the back of the squad with the victim.”
He told jurors “don’t search for doubt, search for truth.”
The woman’s “word is evidence, and it’s enough evidence to convict the defendant of sexual assault,” Arn said. “He thought he got away with it. Don’t let him get away with it.”
Defense attorney Julius Kim told jurors Wednesday that prosecutors and investigators had no evidence Froeber sexually assaulted the woman.
“A search of Mr. Froeber’s cellphone revealed absolutely no pictures of (the woman),” Kim said. “Mr. Froeber’s DNA was not found anywhere on (the woman’s) clothing or body. There were two male DNA profiles in (the woman’s) underwear.” But not Froeber’s, he told jurors.
Kim then turned to stare at prosecutors and said “it’s incredibly dangerous.”
“If you won’t open your mind that something might not have happened — bad things happen. Innocent people get (arrested),” Kim said loudly, staring hard at prosecutors.
“When Mr. Froeber realized he was under police investigation, he didn’t ‘lawyer up.’ He fully cooperated. He provided a voluntary statement to police. Also, he voluntarily gave them his DNA,” Kim told jurors. “If Mr. Froeber (sexually assaulted the woman), he certainly didn’t act like a guilty person, did he?”
Kim said he believes the woman believes something happened in the ambulance, after suffering her third seizure that day.
However, “There are so many things that give us reason for pause,” Kim told jurors. “You know what that pause is, ladies and gentlemen? It’s reasonable doubt.”
But Arn countered “that pause is not reasonable doubt. That pause is you using your common sense to try to determine the credibility of (the woman). You should not return a verdict of guilty because you feel bad for her, but because you believe her.”
For Froeber, he said he now must try to rebuild his life. That includes returning to work. He had been placed on paid administrative leave after prosecutors charged him last summer.
“My shift starts tomorrow,” he said, looking at his watch. “Now I have to go through the process of trying to get my EMS license back.”