Student faces aggravated rape charges
A Loyola senior is scheduled to appear in court today in a case of what police are calling aggravated rape at an Uptown bar.
According to police, the incident happened last month at The Palms Bar and Grill on Freret Street. Police say that Jonathan Cepelak, mass communication senior, was buying drinks for an unnamed woman. Cepelak was employed as a bartender at the Palms, but was not working at the time.
The woman told police that she was dancing with Cepelak before they relocated to the bar's storeroom where they engaged in a brief, reluctant, though consensual, sexual encounter. She went on to tell police that she quickly left the storeroom and returned to the bar. She said that in the bar, Cepelak again approached her and they returned to the closet, where she said Cepelak invited a second man to join them.
At this point, the woman said Cepelak forced her to have sex with him against her will, and then she said he pushed her head down and forced her to engage in a sexual act with the second man.
The police report says she then fled the area and returned to her dorm.
Defense attorney for Cepelak, Robert Hjortsberg, who is an alumnus of Loyola Law School, cautions that the case may not be clear-cut.
"At this time Jonathan has simply been charged with a crime," Hjortsberg wrote in a statement issued to The Maroon. "There has been no formal acceptance of charges by the district attorney in this matter. In fact the investigation is still ongoing."
According to the police report, the woman said that she did not know the name of either men involved in the incident, but said she was able to find a photo of the first man on the Palms' website, which she printed and provided to police, according to the report.
The manager identified the man as Cepelak to detectives.
The arrest warrant said that the detective reviewed the bar's video surveillance cameras and saw Cepelak in the bar with the woman.
However, Hjortsberg said that the video surveillance may also exonerate his client.
"I have had an opportunity to interview several witnesses in this case as well as view video footage from the bar that night," Hjortsberg continued in his statement. "All of the physical evidence we have seen makes it clear that the charges against Mr. Cepelak are baseless. The allegations made against him are in no way supported by the video evidence and the witnesses that were present at the bar that night. For this reason I am confident that after careful consideration the district attorney will choose not to accept these charges and allow Jonathan to get on with his life as a student at Loyola."
Police arrested Cepelak March 28 on charges of aggravated rape. Court records show he was released on $75,000 bail.
The Orleans Criminal District Court issued an order on April 2 prohibiting Cepelak from contacting the woman involved in the case while he is out on bail.
Cepelak's court appearance is scheduled for today, April 25, at 3 p.m.
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