Utah woman says justice system failed to protect her from an accused serial predator
Dec 13, 2022, 10:22 PM | Updated: May 12, 2023, 5:28 pm
SALT LAKE CITY — Vanessa Clark is in disbelief.
“I can’t believe that he was able to do what he did,” she told the KSL Investigators.
On Nov. 7, Clark reported to law enforcement that she was raped by Joshua Homer, 26, after he invited her over to his home in Vineyard. Clark said the two initially connected through an online dating app and were meeting up for the first time.
“It’s something that lives with you every single day now,” she said. “It’s just kind of hard to go forward.”
But Clark said she isn’t just processing what happened to her. In the days after the assault, she learned she is far from the first woman to accuse Homer of rape.
And just days before she agreed to meet him, Homer was released from the Weber County Jail, where he was sentenced to serve little more than a week behind bars for sex crimes involving a 16-year-old victim.
“My story could have been prevented,” Clark said.
Vanessa Clark says Utah's justice system failed to protect her & others from an accused serial predator.
Here is her message to others who've experienced sexual assault: pic.twitter.com/7eiOZDlHFn
— Daniella Rivera KSL (@DaniellaKSL) December 14, 2022
Homer is under investigation but has not been charged in connection with Clark’s report of sexual assault.
The KSL Investigators dug into his criminal past and found convictions for crimes against women and girls spanning the last decade, but sentences amounting to less than a month in total spent behind bars.
Nine days in jail
“This is a troubling case,” said Judge Noel Hyde of Utah’s Second Judicial District during a sentencing hearing for Homer in Weber County on Oct. 18.
“The conduct which has been described as having been engaged in by this defendant is not acceptable,” he continued.
The conduct before the court on that day was previously described by Rich Gallegos, Homer’s privately retained defense attorney, during a plea hearing in August.
“Essentially, they met at a hotel, and there was some sexual interaction between him and a 16-year-old,” Gallegos said, explaining the accusations in the case against his 26-year-old client, who had been 25 at the time of the crime.
Homer was initially charged with three felony counts of unlawful sexual conduct with a 16- or 17-year-old, an offense that could have landed him on the sex offender registry if convicted.
When asked by the judge whether Gallegos’ explanation of events was accurate, Homer answered, “Yes.”
But even after previously admitting to a sex crime against a 16-year-old, Homer walked right out of the Ogden courtroom in October. He had previously pleaded guilty to a different felony charge of “dealing harmful materials to a minor.”
“This is not a registrable sex offense,” Gallegos said of the charge his client pleaded to. “Part of the spirit of the negotiation was to avoid that requirement.”
Judge Hyde sentenced Homer to spend 10 days inside the Weber County Jail, followed by 80 days of “day reporting” to the jail and 48 months of probation. He got credit for one day already spent in jail, leaving just nine additional days to serve.
Instead of being taken into custody immediately, Homer was allowed to report to jail three days later. The judge granted him the extra time so he could make arrangements with the company where he claimed to be employed.
But when the KSL Investigators called the company Homer told the judge he worked for, the company replied that Homer was not employed there in October and hadn’t been since September.
‘At least we got something’
Homer was released from jail in time to appear for a remote sentencing hearing in Davis County on Nov. 1, where he faced another count of unlawful sexual conduct with a minor and pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of sexual battery.
The case involved a similar crime with the same teenage victim, and the sentence mirrored the sentence he received in Weber County – Homer received no additional jail time with the remaining sentence and probation served concurrently with the Weber County sentence.
Prosecutors in both counties said it was the best they could do with the evidence they had.
“The negotiated plea in this case was reached after it was determined that there were going to be some significant evidentiary issues going forward,” Weber County Attorney Christopher Allred wrote in an email to KSL. “This left real exposure at trial and the possibility of no conviction whatsoever.”
Allred, who would not agree to participate in an interview, defended the deal in his emailed statement, noting it secured Homer’s first felony conviction and ensured he would be subject to court-imposed “Group A” sex offender conditions while on probation.
“We’re building a criminal history on this guy,” said Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings. “We now have two more convictions on his record that we didn’t have before this. Yes, he didn’t do an appreciable amount of time in jail. Yes, there are potentially more are serious charges that could have been filed. But at least we got something.”
Rawlings, who agreed to speak with the KSL Investigators in an on-camera interview, referred to the deal as a global settlement — in these two cases, a deal between multiple jurisdictions involving the same perpetrator and victim.
“The system has held him accountable to the degree the evidence and the cooperation of victims and witnesses will allow,” Rawlings said.
Through a spokesperson, the judges involved in both cases declined to comment.
‘LOCK HIM UP’
For some women following developments in Homer’s two recent cases, the resolution was a bitter disappointment.
In 2020, Utah women started sharing allegations of sexual assault against Homer under the hashtag: #UtahRapists.
Soon after, an online petition titled, “Serial Rapist in Utah – LOCK HIM UP,” called for Homer’s incarceration. Since then, it has garnered more than 1,000 signatures.
The movement caught the attention of investigators with Utah’s State Bureau of Investigation, which confirms it has received more than 25 claims of sexual assault against Homer.
The KSL Investigators have spoken with several of Homer’s accusers and noticed their stories show a disturbing pattern. Many of the women first connected with Homer online, through either social media or dating apps. Several said he offered to give them money or pay for expenses like car repairs. And the women said consent did not matter to him — that he forced himself on them, even when they resisted.
‘He becomes forceful’
But our investigation revealed law enforcement already figured that out seven years ago.
A report in a 2015 case written by a Syracuse police detective and obtained by the KSL Investigators connects five incidents involving Homer, four of which occurred while he was a juvenile.
“These incidents share several similarities,” the detective wrote. “One similarity is some of these allegations are made after the first time the parties meet. Secondly, it appears to be a pattern that Joshua informs the females that everything will be OK and tries to verbally convince the parties to engage in sexual acts. Lastly, it appears that the females inform Joshua that they do not want to proceed with intercourse and he becomes forceful.”
Homer’s juvenile records reveal at age 16, he was charged with rape of a child under 14. That wasn’t the first allegation made against him, but it was the first record the KSL Investigators could find of a felony prosecution. Records show he admitted to a lesser charge of misdemeanor sexual battery.
As an adult, Homer has been arrested at least nine times.
His criminal history includes multiple cases involving domestic violence that have mostly been resolved with plea bargains that remove the domestic violence tags from his convictions, which would have led to heftier penalties in the future for committing similar crimes.
Homer has pleaded guilty to breaking into women’s homes and damaging vehicles. He’s violated probation conditions by committing new offenses. And he’s learned, despite threats from judges of “zero tolerance,” that those violations will be tolerated.
Twice, the KSL Investigators learned, judges have opted to respond to violations by simply terminating his probation as “unsuccessful,” ending the supervision periods in those respective cases.
Most recently, on Nov. 1, just minutes after 2nd District Judge David Connors told Homer there would be “zero tolerance” for any new similar offenses, a violation of a previous probation sentence was brought up.
“He’s got plenty on his plate with the new case here and the one on Weber County,” defense attorney Gallegos said.
Prosecutors didn’t push for any consequences.
“We’re going to recognize this as an admission that there’s been a violation,” said Judge Connors, “but under the circumstances, we’re simply going to terminate it as unsuccessful.”
Altogether, Homer’s convictions could have had him in jail for more than three years. Instead, he’s been sentenced to spend a total of just 26 days behind bars. The rest of his jail time has been suspended, in favor of probation.
‘Lack of Evidence’
Homer has never been convicted or even charged with rape as an adult, but according to records obtained by KSL, Utah law enforcement agencies have intensively investigated at least five rape allegations against him.
In two cases in Davis and Utah counties, victims who were initially cooperative requested that law enforcement stop the investigations. According to a report obtained by KSL, one woman said the process had “not done any good for her.”
Another case investigated by Syracuse police was closed before it was ever formally sent to prosecutors for screening. A supplemental report attached to the casefile cites “lack of evidence,” as the reason.
In the other two rape cases, documents obtained through a public records request show Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings’ office declined to prosecute.
“They went through the evidence in those cases, they went through the facts, they discussed them, and they declined those cases, because there was insufficient evidence to file them,” he said of his special victims prosecutors.
Rawlings defended the charging decisions made by his office, noting that just because a case does not get prosecuted does not necessarily mean that his office does not believe a victim or that prosecutors have determined that the alleged crime did not happen.
“These two cases that we’ve declined, we’re very well aware that in factual reality, possibly they were raped,” he said. “We’re saying we cannot prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.”
‘I hope to be his last victim’
Just days after Homer walked out of the Weber County Jail, and just days after he was given no additional jail time by a second judge in Davis County, Vanessa Clark says Homer invited her over on Nov. 6 and then raped her.
“My story could have been prevented, just like many other women, if he just would have been put behind bars,” she told the KSL Investigators.
KSL does not typically identify victims of sexual assault, but Clark chose to be identified for this story in hopes of protecting other women.
“I wish someone would have done that for me,” she said. “I wish I didn’t have to go through that honestly, and now, I have to live with that for the rest of my life.”
Clark reported the encounter to law enforcement and underwent a forensic exam. The Utah County Sheriff’s Office is now investigating.
“I have full confidence in the ability and the skills of our investigators,” said Sgt. Spencer Cannon with the Sheriff’s office.
Homer and Clark communicated via social media and other digital platforms off and on for roughly a year — sometimes discussing their shared interest of snowboarding — before she agreed to meet up with him in person. She says she had no idea he had any kind of criminal history, least of all a history of sex offense convictions, and wants to know why he was out free the day she went to his home.
“I think that the criminal justice system and Josh Homer need to be held accountable,” she said. “With all of these records, it shows that he should not be out on the streets because it’s a liability to the lives of other girls like me.”
Clark said she wants Utah’s justice system to do more now to protect others.
“I hope to be his last victim,” she said.
Sitting down with KSL was scary for Clark. She said she feared for her safety and the safety of her family, but she was willing to take a risk to be a voice for others.
“I see women who have suffered at the hands of like, our court system, that are not being taken seriously enough, and I feel like someone, at least, needs to speak out. Because if no one’s going to do it, I felt like maybe I should just do it,” she said.
In a message to other women who have been victims of sexual assault, Clark said, “We women, we matter. Your voice matters. Your well-being, after everything that he has done, it all matters. I think that you should trust in yourself that you should be able to speak out.”
Not in custody
Homer avoided KSL’s cameras inside the Ogden courthouse on Oct. 18, leaving our questions to Gallegos, who first started representing Homer when he was a juvenile.
When asked on his way in to court whether his client presents a danger to Utah women and girls, Gallegos answered, “No.”
Gallegos later declined to participate in an interview and did not respond to an inquiry from the KSL Investigators regarding the latest allegation of rape against Homer.
Homer has been under supervision by Adult Probation and Parole since Oct. 18. Broadly redacted supervision records provided to the KSL Investigators in response to a public records request show Homer has had two face-to-face meetings with his probation officer between Oct. 31 and Dec. 2. During that same time frame, his supervision records list two attempts to visit Homer at his residence, but no answer at the door.
Homer is also currently serving the remainder of his 80-day “day reporting” sentence, which involves checking in at the Weber County Jail three times a week and submitting to random drug testing.
As of Tuesday evening, officials at the Weber County Jail confirmed Homer is not in custody.
This report is the first in a series examining how apparent gaps at every level of Utah’s criminal justice system failed to protect Utahns from an accused serial predator.
If you have experienced sexual violence, you can access help and resources by calling Utah’s 24-hour Sexual Violence Helpline at 1-888-421-1100. You can also call the Rape Recovery Center Crisis Line at 801-467-7273 or the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 for free, confidential counseling.
Have you experienced something you think just isn’t right? The KSL Investigators want to help. Submit your tip at email@example.com or 385-707-6153 so we can get working for you.