Lawrence man sentenced to more than 12 years in prison for raping a guest in his home

photo by: Dylan Lysen/Lawrence Journal-World

Erick Ogwangi appears in Douglas County District Court during a sentencing hearing on Tuesday, July 20, 2021. Ogwangi was sentenced to more than 12 years in prison for being convicted of rape.

A Lawrence man was sentenced to more than 12 years in prison on Tuesday for raping a guest in his home in 2017, despite pleas from several friends and family members who said he was a selfless man who had previously worked to better the community.

Douglas County District Court Judge Kay Huff on Tuesday sentenced Erick Ogwangi, 36, to 147 months in prison, which is the state’s minimum recommended sentence for a person convicted of rape who had no previous criminal history. Huff didn’t disagree with family members’ comments that Ogwangi, who ran a residential and day services business for adults with developmental disabilities, had worked to better his community. But she also said that didn’t excuse him from facing the consequences of his rape conviction.

“Mr. Ogwangi has contributed to the community. There’s no question about that,” Huff said. “He also broke the law,” she added.

Ogwangi was convicted at a trial in May, in which jurors took less than an hour to deliver a guilty verdict, as the Journal-World previously reported. His charges stemmed from an incident in January 2017, when a then-26-year-old woman accused him of raping her. She testified that she was staying at Ogwangi’s house to visit his wife, and that while she was sleeping in their guest bedroom Ogwangi overpowered her and raped her — while his young son was asleep in the same room.

After the incident, the woman left the home and went to the hospital for a sexual assault evaluation. Later she reported the incident to the police. In a recorded call from the police station, played at trial, the woman could be heard telling Ogwangi she “didn’t understand why he would do that.” Ogwangi could then be heard saying he didn’t know either.

“I don’t know what came over me,” Ogwangi could be heard saying over the phone. “I don’t know how I could do that to somebody I care about.”

DNA evidence taken from the evaluation showed seminal fluid found on the woman belonging to Ogwangi.

The Journal-World does not name alleged victims in sex crime cases.

Before Ogwangi’s sentencing, the woman told the court on Tuesday that the incident had severely disrupted her life. She said that she had been to more than 100 therapy sessions to work through her trauma and that until recently she wasn’t able to leave her house after dark. In addition, she said it was difficult to be courteous or friendly with men after what had happened.

After the incident, the woman said she was initially afraid that she had done something wrong. She said she now knew that what happened to her wasn’t her fault, and she fought through tears as she said all she wanted was for Ogwangi to acknowledge that what he did was wrong.

“These are just the consequences of his actions,” she said. “I’m grateful this may protect others from him.”

On Tuesday, Ogwangi continued to assert that he was innocent; he said he knew he wasn’t a rapist or a violent person. He said his mental health and his relationships with his family had suffered during his time in jail. Even though he maintained that he was innocent, he also apologized to the woman for hurting her.

“I wish she may be free from suffering and find peace and joy,” Ogwangi said.

Ogwangi’s sentence is more than twice as long as what his attorney Sarah Swain had requested from the court. She had asked for a sentence of six years, which would have been a departure from the state’s sentencing guidelines.

At the hearing, about seven friends and family members told the court they thought Ogwangi was a good man who had dedicated his life to serving others in the Lawrence community. They pointed to his business, Carpe Diem Community Living LLC, which was licensed to provide residential and day services for developmentally disabled adults.

Some also said they thought racial prejudice played a role in his conviction. Ogwangi, who is originally from Kenya, is Black.

Ogwangi’s wife, Sandra Yoder, also maintained that her husband was innocent. She said that if Ogwangi were in prison for a long time, it would likely take a toll on their children.

Along with the comments from friends and family members, Swain brought up an evaluation conducted by Gregory Nawalanic, a psychiatrist for the University of Kansas Health System. Nawalanic himself testified at the hearing. He said that his evaluation hadn’t found antisocial tendencies in Ogwangi and that he thought Ogwangi was not likely to be a repeat offender. He also said he thought Ogwangi was “open, honest and straightforward” during the evaluation process, and that “this is a warm and loving, caring individual and would not likely be a predator looking for another victim.”

Based on the comments from Ogwangi’s supporters, Swain said she believed a shorter sentence was appropriate.

“(We ask you grant) our departure based on the fact that whatever mistakes he made, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of examples of the significant contribution that Mr. Ogwangi has contributed to this community, his family, his partner, and the people in this room,” Swain said in court.

Deputy District Attorney Joshua Seiden, meanwhile, asked the court to sentence Ogwangi to 155 months, almost 13 years, which is the state’s standard sentence for the conviction. He said that although some people at the hearing spoke highly of Ogwangi, that didn’t change the fact that other community members — the jurors — found him guilty of rape.

Seiden said it seemed to him that the people speaking in court on Ogwangi’s behalf believed the woman was lying, or that Ogwangi’s status in the community as a caregiver meant that he deserved “some sort of pass.”

“Neither of those things are accurate,” he said.

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