A 58-year-old massage therapist faces eight to 30 years in prison after a jury found him guilty Thursday afternoon of sexually assaulting a customer.
Ronnie Blom, of Litchfield, was accused of using force to assault a 42-year-old woman on April 30, 2015 during a massage at Massage Luxe in Edwardsville.
The jury deliberated for less than hour before returning the guilty verdict. Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons attributed the speedy verdict to the “brave testimony” of four victims.
After the verdict was returned, deputies cuffed Blom and took him out of the courtroom.
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“I would imagine for the victims to see him put in cuffs and taken must have been powerful vindication for what they had to suffer,” Gibbons said.
Blom’s sentence hearing was not scheduled as of Thursday.
Prosecuting attorney Kathleen Nolan argued Blom’s actions display a pattern of sexually victimizing women while they were vulnerable on a massage table.
“It’s not about how (she) acted or reacted; it’s about what the defendant did,” she said.
She acknowledged the defense attorney’s argument that there was no evidence beyond the 42-year-old woman’s testimony, but Nolan argued the similar testimony of three other women corroborated the woman’s claims.
“There is no gray area between a therapeutic massage and a sensual massage,” Nolan said.
Defense attorney Scott Snider said Wednesday the “line between therapy and sensuality and sexuality” can become blurred during a massage.
Snider said the 42-year-old victim’s testimony was inconsistent, from specific details of the assault to who took her to the hospital for an exam. He also noted that she left Blom a tip after the massage.
“It defies all logic, it defies all reason and it certainly defies all common sense — that she would leave a ... tip,” Snider said.
Snider attempted to convince jurors the other women’s experiences don’t prove the 42-year-old woman was sexually assaulted.
“This case is full of reasonable doubt, ladies and gentlemen,” the defense attorney said. “(Her) testimony is riddled with reasonable doubt.”
A 31-year-old Tremont woman told jurors Thursday that Blom touched her inappropriately during a prenatal massage at Massage Luxe about a week before the 42-year-old woman reported the alleged assault to police.
The Tremont woman told jurors she was in her third trimester and had received other prenatal massages prior to her encounter with Blom. During the massage in question, she testified, Blom made her uncomfortable by doing things out of the ordinary for a massage therapist.
“I was trying to keep it together for the 60 minutes,” the woman said about why she didn’t try to stop Blom from touching her. “I was a pregnant woman in a small room with a male. I was scared.”
She said Blom was “panting” and sweating during the massage.
The defense attorney asked why she didn’t mark those body parts on a client form to indicate areas she did not want touched. Snider said Blom couldn’t have known she didn’t want those parts of her body touched without being told. The woman said she filled out the form long before her pregnancy.
After seeing reports about Blom in the media, the Tremont woman went to police.
Another woman testified Wednesday that Blom assaulted her in 2012 and yet another said Blom touched her inappropriately in 2015.
Blom did not testify and the defense did not call any witnesses.
Edwardsville Det. Derrick Fitzgerald, the lead investigator on the case, testified Thursday morning.
He said the 42-year-old woman initially came off as upset but “analytical.” He conducted a recorded interview with her and escorted her to the hospital for a sexual assault exam to collect physical evidence.
No physical evidence was found, which he said is common when it comes to sexual assaults committed with someone’s hands.
Fitzgerald said he fielded a number of calls from women after police released Blom’s photo and charges. He said none of the women knew each other.
“They had all received massages from Ronnie Blom,” he told jurors.
The defense attorney said the detective never mentioned the 42-year-old woman to the other women or asked if they knew her. Snider also argued the only evidence in the case was the 42-year-old woman’s statement. No additional eyewitnesses or physical evidence was presented.
The 42-year-old woman testified Wednesday that Blom used his fingers to sexually assault her and groped her multiple times. She said she did not leave the massage room or say anything out of fear.
“I was scared and feeling unsafe. I was in shock and couldn’t move,” she told jurors Wednesday.
Outside the jury’s presence Thursday, Snider asked the judge to dismiss the charges because prosecution had not proved Blom used force or a threat of force, like the charge indicates.
“Consent does not equal force,” Snider said. “The state chose to charge this and there has been no evidence of force.”
Prosecuting attorney Kathleen Nolan said the act of sexually assaulting the woman indicated force was used.
Judge Neil Schroeder denied the defense attorney’s request, but noted that the act of a sexual assault is not force in and of itself. However, he said if the woman felt she would be in danger for defending herself, that would substantiate use of force.
“A very thin piece of thread to hang a case on,” the judge said.