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Uber driver sentenced to prison for sexually assaulting passenger

By Stephanie Warsmith • May 22, 2018 at 9:00 PM

AKRON (TNS) — Uber driver Brandon Franklin got teary as he apologized during his sentencing Tuesday for sexually assaulting a female passenger.

“I’m not that guy,” Franklin told Summit County Common Pleas Judge Jay Wells. “I can’t register for the rest of my life. I take the blame for cheating. I’m not a sexual predator. I ask that the court see that. Just give me the chance to prove myself to my community and this court.”

The 22-year-old woman Franklin was convicted of assaulting also became emotional as she addressed Franklin and the court.

“I’m not who I was before you raped me,” she told Franklin. “I really loved her — and you took her away from me.”

After hearing from both Franklin and the victim, Wells sentenced Franklin to 4 1/2 years in prison, just six months shy of the five-year maximum he faced. Franklin plans to appeal and will be eligible for an early release after six months.

Franklin, 34, of Tallmadge was found guilty by a Summit County jury April 20 of sexual battery, a third-degree felony. The crime carries a penalty of one to five years in prison, though prison time isn't mandatory.

Both Franklin and the victim testified during a three-day trial.

The woman reiterated the story she told police — that she woke up on the night of March 25, 2017 and found Franklin, her Uber driver, sexually assaulting her in her Akron home. She said he fled after she pushed him out of the room. She said she doesn’t remember much else because she had too much to drink that day with friends.

Franklin, however, testified that the woman came onto him after he drove her to her Akron home and initiated a sexual encounter. He described her as “more buzzed than drunk.”

The Akron Beacon Journal generally doesn't name sexual assault victims.

This was the first time an Uber employee was charged with sexual assault in Summit County, though others have been charged elsewhere in the country. Uber recently added a panic feature that allows passengers to alert 911 if they need help.

Wells revoked Franklin's bond after his conviction. Franklin wore an orange jail jumpsuit during his sentencing.

Emanuel Makris, a Canton attorney who represented Franklin, urged Wells to consider probation for Franklin. He pointed to Franklin's lack of a previous criminal record and the fact that he thought the woman had given consent.

“It was a mistake on his end,” Makris said. “It wasn’t like he was out to hurt anyone.”

Franklin apologized to his family members, several of whom were in court, for the shame and embarrassment he's caused them.

“I love my kids, my fiancée,” Franklin said, choking back tears. “This is killing me, your honor. I’m just sorry for this whole situation. I ask for your mercy in sentencing, so I can get back to my family and see my kids.”

When the victim spoke, she recalled waking up on the morning after the assault and not knowing what to do.

“Should I pretend nothing happened?” she recalled thinking. “I was the one who blacked out. I must have been flirting and gave him the wrong impression. I'd heard that about other victims.”

She said her best friend convinced her to go to the hospital and get a rape kit done and her mother talked her into reporting the incident to police.

Since that time, she said she has had panic attacks and nightmares, struggled to go out in public and doesn't want to be touched.

The victim, though, said she is coping with the help of counseling and thanked the detective, prosecutor and victim advocate who have helped her through this difficult time. She said she doesn't regret coming forward because she might have helped prevented other women from being assaulted or convinced other victims to speak out.

“I hope that you know that I hear you,” she said of other victims.

Summit County Assistant Prosecutor Elliot Kolkovich said the assault victim in this case is “braver and stronger than when I first met her.” He noted that Franklin apologized to his family and seemed concerned about what would happen to him, but said nothing to the victim. He suggested that Wells give Franklin the maximum of five years.

This prompted Franklin to apologize to the victim “for the pain I caused her,” while still continuing to deny his guilt.

“I took this case to trial because I believe I’m innocent,” he said. “I'm not this animal or this rapist. I'm a loving, caring father. I wish I could take that night back and turn down her invitation.”

Wells said the case was difficult.

“Look at all the lives you affected,” the judge said to Franklin, pointing to the loved ones from both sides in the courtroom. “You sent shock waves.”

Wells ordered that Franklin be designated a Tier III sex offender, which means he will be required to register his address every 90 days for the rest of his life.

Franklin’s fiancée sobbed as he was led from the courtroom in handcuffs.

“We love you, Brandon!” Franklin’s mother called to him.

Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or swarsmith@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow on Twitter: @swarsmithabj and on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/swarsmith.

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(c)2018 the Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)

Visit the Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio) at www.ohio.com.

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