C.J.: News alert: Ex-KSTPers tell their side of Champaign story

  • Article by: C.J. , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 22, 2007 - 10:38 PM

Kent Ninomiya had a lot to say about last week's column regarding an Illinois college student who testified that she drove drunk only because she was fleeing what she feared would be a potential sexual assault by him and Emily Carlson.

Kent Ninomiya had a lot to say about last week's column regarding an Illinois college student who testified that she drove drunk only because she was fleeing what she feared would be a potential sexual assault by him and Emily Carlson.

Ninomiya and Carlson, former KSTPers, were an anchor and a reporter, respectively, at WICD-TV in Champaign, Ill., on Sept. 17, 2006, when Erin Davis, then 18, had her run-in with two parked cars and then the law.

Davis, who had a blood-alcohol content of 0.20, was acquitted of drunken driving; her defense was that she drove intoxicated out of a necessity to escape greater injury. According to Davis' testimony, she was served vodka by Carlson at Carlson's apartment. Ninomiya testified that he was at the apartment to take the women out to eat.

In court, Davis was described as an intern. Tim Mathis, GM of WICS and WICD, said Friday: "Erin Davis was an employee, not an intern. She was a member of the operations department at WICD."

Ninomiya was the first source to correct me about Davis' job description.

"I would like to bring your attention to the facts in this case," Ninomiya wrote in an e-mail. (The broadcast journalist refused my request for a telephone interview.) "Both me and Emily Carlson were subpoenaed as witnesses for the prosecution. Don't you think the state's attorney would have loved to come after an anchor and reporter if there was any wrongdoing? Her story was her attempt to avoid taking responsibility for her actions.

"I never touched her, was never alone with her and never drank with her. In fact, I do not drink at all," Ninomiya wrote.

Neither Carlson, who did not testify, nor Ninomiya, who did testify, was charged with any crime regarding Davis.

Via e-mail Saturday, Carlson wrote that Davis' defense was a fabrication. "Clearly the state attorney's office found me to be the credible witness, not Erin Davis," Carlson wrote. "It is important to note that the judge was 'skeptical' of Davis' testimony, but 'reluctantly' allowed it."

In the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette, reporter Mary Schenk, who covered the trial from gavel to gavel, noted that Judge Richard Klaus allowed the jury to consider Davis' unusual defense because the college student's attorney presented sufficient evidence to support the claim.

Carlson wanted me to stress that her "reasons for leaving WICD are completely unrelated to the [Davis] case. I left voluntarily because of contract issues."

While pleased to hear from Ninomiya and Carlson, I'm left with a lot of questions.

Speaking up for the two

Twin Cities media types were just plain shocked about Ninomiya's association with the case heard by a Champaign County jury.

Vineeta Sawkar, now a morning and midday anchor at KSTP-TV, sat near Ninomiya when he worked here.

"If that is true, I don't know that side of him," Sawkar said last week. "I was friends with him when he was here. I went to an apple-picking farm with he and his wife and their kids, and I took my kids. I've been to his house before; he and my husband and I and our kids went to his son's birthday party. We got along well. It's all just so stunning."

Joe Aronson, who identified himself in an interview as a high school friend of Carlson's, wrote a long, passionate e-mail defending her.

"I have had the pleasure of knowing Emily Carlson for about eight years," Aronson wrote. "It has been my honor to count her as one of my friends. She is one of the finest people I know, an ear that is always there to listen. The things this young woman said Emily did are completely out of character and never in a million years would I believe they are true."

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