Topeka man to stand trial in Douglas County for alleged rape in 2020; affidavit alleges woman tried to get him to apologize before going to police

photo by: Mackenzie Clark

The Douglas County Judicial and Law Enforcement Center, which houses Douglas County District Court and a number of other criminal justice services at 111 E. 11th St., is pictured April 8, 2020.

A Topeka man has been ordered to stand trial for a charge of rape stemming from a 2020 incident where he allegedly assaulted a 19-year-old woman.

According to an affidavit in the case, the woman said Thomas J. Zarse, 22, assaulted her after she repeatedly said no to his advances. She also said she was in shock and unable to move during the incident.

“My body just wouldn’t move,” the woman told police.

She also said she tried to “reconcile” with Zarse twice before she contacted the Lawrence Police Department to report the incident, but both attempts were unproductive.

After a preliminary hearing on Sept. 14, Zarse was bound over for trial. Douglas County District Court Judge Kay Huff set his trial to begin on March 16, 2022, according to court records.

An amended complaint filed last week accused Zarse of raping the woman between Jan. 11 and Jan. 12, 2020. The original charging document stated the incident occurred in October 2020, which the affidavit notes was when the police began investigating.

The charge is a level-one person felony, which comes with a minimum sentence of 147 months, just over 12 years, in prison for offenders who have little to no criminal history, according to Kansas sentencing guidelines.

Zarse was originally arrested on May 27 at the Douglas County Jail, the Journal-World previously reported. He posted a $25,000 cash or surety bond and was released from custody later that day.

The affidavit supporting Zarse’s arrest was recently released to the Journal-World. Allegations in affidavits have not been proved in court, and defendants in criminal cases should be presumed not guilty unless and until they are convicted. The Journal-World does not generally identify alleged victims in sex-crime cases.

According to the affidavit:

The incident occurred at the woman’s apartment during the early-morning hours of Jan. 12, 2020. She said she returned home with friends, including Zarse, around midnight.

While there, they were all drinking alcohol. One friend left at one point because he had to get up early, but Zarse stayed and continued to drink with the woman.

Later, she was sitting on the floor of her bedroom, while Zarse was on her bed. Zarse then moved to the floor and attempted to kiss her. The woman said she told Zarse, “No stop, we can’t do this, you have a girlfriend.”

Zarse responded by saying he was going to break up with his girlfriend, but didn’t know how to because it was difficult. The woman said she told Zarse that still meant he had a girlfriend and that they could not move forward, which she said she was adamant about. He then stopped for a moment, but later attempted to kiss her again and touch her sexually.

The woman said she began to cry, but was unable to stop Zarse because she was in shock. She said she was “kind of frozen” because she was having flashbacks to a sexual assault she had previously suffered. She said she was only “kind of there” and could not say anything or do anything.

Zarse then raped her, she said. The woman said she did not know how long the incident lasted, but she noticed it was 5 a.m. when Zarse stopped.

When Zarse walked away, the woman went into the room of her roommate, who was not home at the time. Zarse left sometime that morning.

The woman said she did not go to the hospital for a sexual assault evaluation. She also did not notify the police of the incident until months later. When she did notify police, she was accompanied by a pastor.

Prior to notifying police, the woman said she attempted to resolve the issue by speaking with Zarse on the phone, which was conducted with the help of the pastor. She said she asked for the pastor’s help because of the previous assault and because she did not want to go through the process again. According to the affidavit, the prior sexual assault resulted in a plea agreement, but no further details are provided.

The woman said she wanted to speak to Zarse because he was a friend and she knew “there was good in him.” She said she hoped he would realize that what he did was wrong, own up to it and apologize. But Zarse did not apologize, she said. He said he believed the incident was consensual sex. He also told her he was joining the U.S. Marines and was trying to become a better man and serve the country.

The woman said she then told Zarse that didn’t matter and he was “not a man” and he needed to own up to what he had done. She also said she told him she wanted him to go to counseling to help him own up to it and if he did not, she would press charges.

Zarse responded by saying “he wanted to get over it and move past the matter,” she said. The woman said she stopped talking during the call because she realized Zarse did not believe the incident was a major issue.

The woman, through the pastor, later asked to meet Zarse in person to “reconcile.” They met in the backyard of the pastor’s home. But the woman told police that Zarse was not there to reconcile and instead again said the incident was consensual and that “she wanted it.”

The woman then chose to press charges and reported the incident to police on Oct. 28, 2020.

Officers later attempted to interview Zarse on Dec. 1, 2020, but he said he would not speak to them without his attorney. The next day, officers spoke to John P. O’Connor, his attorney, who told them Zarse would not give a statement to the police.

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