Nikki Yovino, the 19-year-old Connecticut college student who admitted that she made up allegations that she was raped, appeared to roll her eyes during her sentencing hearing on Thursday. However, her attorney is contesting any characterization of his client as unremorseful and says her body language is being misinterpreted.
You can see some of the raw video from the proceeding in the player above.
Yovino was sentenced Thursday to one year behind bars after pleading guilty to two counts of falsely reporting an incident in the second degree and one count of interfering with officers. She had originally been charged with felony tampering with evidence and misdemeanor falsely reporting an incident. The plea agreement allowed Yovino to avoid the more serious felony charge while still serving time behind bars. The plea also avoided the chance that the more risky felony charge would have been reversed on appeal.
Yovino, a Long Island native, accused two football players of attacking her in an off-campus bathroom near Sacred Heart University in Bridgeport, Conn., in the fall of 2016. She later said that she lied about being raped so that a male love interest would feel sympathy for her.
During Thursday’s sentencing, an attorney for the former athletes, Frank Riccio, read a statement from one of the athletes. The other athlete appeared in open court to face Yovino directly. The statements said both men’s lives had been turned upside down by the false accusation. One of the men described the process as a roller coaster. Yovino accused them, then admitted it was a lie, then said she wouldn’t take a plea, then said she would enter a plea.
Riccio later said the former athletes were moving forward with a civil suit against Yovino.
Yovino’s attorney, Ryan O’Neill, told reporters that “this was a difficult day for Nikki and her family,” that the punishment was “serious,” and that “her willingness to accept [the] plea deal reflects her accountability for what happened.” When asked by Law&Crime‘s Aaron Keller about Yovino appearing to roll her eyes during sentencing, O’Neill said, “she was not.”
O’Neill later noted that the judge neither commented on nor reprimanded his client’s behavior. He said his client’s body language was nothing more than that of a nervous young woman trying to keep her hair out of her face while standing for a lengthy time in restraints in a court of law. O’Neill further said it was unfair to characterize Yovino’s behavior as defiant and noted that Yovino’s demeanor was consistent throughout the hearing, including during times when more innocuous matters were being discussed. That, he said, suggested that she was not reacting negatively to the more serious statements which were being levied against her, including by the victims and by the judge.
Both of the former athletes lost scholarships due to the false accusations, several sources close to the case told Law&Crime. One of the two left college altogether. Another was said to have been trying to pay his own way through college.
At one point during prior proceedings, Yovino claimed that she never told police she was sexually assaulted in the first place.
The Connecticut Post reported on Yovino’s surprising reversal months back when she testified that she didn’t tell police she was assaulted in a bathroom.
“No, I never said I was sexually assaulted,” she said, adding “I never told [the detective] I was sexually assaulted. I told him that something happened in the bathroom at the party with these two guys, that I didn’t want to happen.”
Assistant State’s Attorney Emily Trudeau reacted with surprise, asking, “You never told law enforcement you were sexually assaulted?”
Yovino denied that she did, even though her attorney, O’Neill, is on record arguing that “these two young men did things to her that were a sexual assault and were against her will.”
Aaron Keller contributed to this report.
[Image via the Law&Crime Network.]
[Editor’s note: This piece has been updated several times with additional video and details. It now contains the raw video of the proceeding from the Law&Crime Network.]