PHILADELPHIA – He was an online dater's dream. Tall, clean-cut with a fashionable address and a taste for upscale bars and restaurants.
But Jeffrey J. Marsalis — who alternately claimed to be an astronaut, a doctor or a spy — was really an on-and-off nursing student whose appealing profile on the online dating site Match.com allowed him to meet woman after woman, slip something in their drinks and then rape them, police said.
Now, Marsalis, 33, is facing trial on nine counts of rape involving eight women, while a 10th charge is pending in Idaho. He was acquitted of three similar assaults at a trial in Philadelphia in January, but before he could leave the courtroom, he was handcuffed by police and accused of the new charges. A judge later denied bail.
In court this week during his preliminary hearing, the women told strikingly similar stories of meeting the smooth-talking Marsalis and then feeling unusually intoxicated after returning from the bathroom or letting him buy a round from the bar.
They said they woke up hours later, back at his apartment — groggy, sometimes undressed — after an apparent sexual encounter or even in the middle of intercourse.
"It was like waking up from surgery," said one of the women who was not identified because it is AP policy to not name victims of sexual assaults. "My body was there, and I could see what was going on around me, but I couldn't move."
Marsalis' lawyer says the women are suffering from regret after being duped about his accomplishments and dumped after consensual sex.
"Some of this may be buyer's remorse," defense lawyer Kathleen E. Martin said Thursday.
None of the Philadelphia victims — most of them well-educated professionals — went to police or a hospital afterward, Martin pointed out. Instead, police sought the women out after they seized Marsalis' computer as part of an earlier case.
While it is difficult to prove the use of date-rape drugs, since they metabolize before victims are alert enough to get a drug screen, a jury could still find him guilty of rape if it decides the women were too impaired to consent to sex.
The outcome may hinge on whether prosecutors can build a circumstantial case by trying all the cases together or whether the defense will try to sever the cases, attorneys for both sides said. The lawyers declined to discuss their trial strategy.
Nine women testified during the two-day evidentiary hearing that concluded Thursday in a Philadelphia court.
One said Marsalis, posing as a doctor, later visited her in a hospital during an unrelated stay. He had a stethoscope around his neck, and checked her chart.
Another said she became pregnant from the encounter — and Marsalis went with her when she had an abortion.
"This guy is not shy. He's confident. He's plotting," said Capt. John Darby, head of the city's sex crimes unit. "He showed IDs to a lot of these women supporting the various roles, positions that he seemingly held. He really put on a hell of a show."
In the pending Idaho case, the woman — who worked with Marsalis for the company which operates the area's ski resort — did go to a hospital the next day. The alleged assault occurred in October 2005, while Marsalis was awaiting trial in the first Philadelphia case.
Records show Marsalis has moved frequently, and lived in Utah, Washington state, Arizona, where he worked as a paramedic, and Florida, where he obtained a permit for a concealed weapon.
He met seven of the eight Philadelphia women through Match.com between 2003 and 2005. The company said Thursday that it cannot monitor what goes on once their clients move from online communication to the real world.
Darby considers Marsalis no less dangerous than the predator who attacks strangers in an alley.
"Certainly he presented himself as an appealing individual. And that's the danger," he said. "You really have to treat those kind of (online) contacts as if they were a stranger."