Trial begins in Arizona sexual assault cases against former Seattle pro indoor soccer team owner

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Nearly two years after being jailed on sexual assault charges in Arizona, onetime Seattle Impact indoor soccer team owner Dion Earl went on trial Wednesday afternoon in a downtown Phoenix courtroom.

The jury trial in Maricopa County Superior Court is expected to last two weeks in a case where two babysitters accused Earl, 47, a former Seattle Pacific University soccer star and Seattle Sea Dogs professional player who maintained dual residences in Kent and in Mesa, Arizona, of sexually assaulting them in separate instances more than five weeks apart. Earl was arrested after the second complaint filed against him in October 2017 and has remained behind bars without bail while awaiting trial.

After the arrest, police in Kirkland reopened an investigation into a suspected 2009 rape in which Earl had been the lone suspect. Earl was charged in June with second-degree rape in that case, which involved a massage parlor attendant who claimed the former Seattle Pacific soccer star had attacked her during an appointment.

Court proceedings in the Kirkland case have been stayed pending conclusion of the Arizona trial, which began with opening arguments Wednesday and testimony from the initial babysitter complainant, the older of the two. Benjamin Taylor, a lawyer representing both alleged victims, said in an interview Wednesday his clients are relieved their two-year ordeal — fraught with legal wrangling — is finally drawing toward closure.

“This has been a long process for the past couple of years in court,’’ Taylor said. “This gives the victims an opportunity at trial to tell their story and we are hoping that the justice system does the right thing and convicts Dion Earl for the sexually violent acts he committed.’’

The babysitters, then ages 18 and 21, alleged Earl lured them to his Mesa home under the guise of babysitting his children. Once there, he is accused of cornering them in a bedroom where he molested them, exposed himself and thrust himself up against them.

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Should Earl be found not guilty in the Arizona cases, he’ll nonetheless remain in custody and be transported to Washington to face the Kirkland rape charge.

During the years prior to the Kirkland case being reopened, Earl purchased a Major Arena Soccer League (MASL) professional indoor expansion team in 2014 dubbed the “Impact’’ and began playing at the ShoWare Center in Kent. But the majority of his players walked out on Earl after just one game following accusations of sexual assault made against him by two of the squad’s female “Ladies with Impact’’ dancers.

King County prosecutors declined to bring criminal charges against Earl in those cases, though the dancers and other former Impact employees were awarded nearly $1 million in damages and fees in a lawsuit alleging the sexual assaults and his harassment of other employees.

Earl was forced to disband his soccer franchise by the MASL not long after The Seattle Times reported on the 2014 allegations and years of prior misconduct accusations made against him by women — including five protection orders sought and granted — dating back nearly two decades. He had also been fired from his job coaching soccer at Interlake high school in Bellevue in 1998 for allegedly asking a 17-year-old female student out on a date; which the Times reported on in a 2003 “Coaches who prey” investigative series.

Besides the criminal cases in Arizona and Washington, Earl also faces up to 10 years in prison on federal charges of orchestrating a $1.3 million tax fraud scheme involving the Impact and other businesses. That case is on-hold until the other criminal accusations against Earl are resolved.

A judge in pretrial hearings authorized the prosecution to call on some of Earl’s alleged female victims from Washington to testify against him in the Arizona trial.

It’s unclear whether any Washington women will actually be called to testify, though the prosecution has alleged aggravating circumstances in the Arizona case stemming from Earl having been accused of similar past wrongdoing. If proven, it could increase any prison sentence handed down against him.