Serial rapist Ryan Craig Stevens was found guilty of the 2013 attempted rape of a 15-year-old girl in downtown Santa Barbara. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk file photo)

A Santa Maria jury found a transient guilty of attempted rape and other charges in an assault of a girl in downtown Santa Barbara nearly three years ago, decades after the defendant spent time in prison for similar crimes.

The Santa Barbara County Superior Court jury started deliberations on the case Wednesday morning after approximately a week of testimony, and returned its verdict Friday afternoon. 

Ryan Craig Stevens, 51, at the time a transient in Santa Barbara, initially was charged with forcible rape and kidnap for rape in connection with the Sept. 21, 2013 attack of a then 15-year-old girl in downtown Santa Barbara. 

“Because of their verdict, the defendant will never be able to hurt another child again,” Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Karapetian said Friday.

“It is anticipated that he will receive a sentence of 32 years to life in prison. All of the victims – both from the past and present – can start moving on with their lives and start healing, knowing that he will spend the rest of his life behind bars.”

In addition to attempted rape, the panel of 10 men and two women found Stevens guilty of lesser charges.

“The defendant is the thing that nightmares are made of,” Karapetian told jurors Wednesday morning, calling the man a serial rapist.

Closing arguments began Tuesday afternoon, a week after the jury began hearing from witnesses including the one claiming to be Stevens’ latest victim.

“He took advantage of a 15-year-old child who was running the streets of Santa Barbara, intoxicated, extremely vulnerable, so vulnerable that she could hardly take care of herself that night,” Karapetian said. “He saw that. He saw that opportunity to take advantage of a child.”

She noted the similarity of the attacks for the most recent victim compared to the circumstances the prior victims described.

In 1989, Stevens was convicted of two counts of forcible rape, forcible oral copulation and lewd act upon a child involving two victims. One was attacked on TV Hill while the other was at a Santa Barbara recording studio.

While that conviction involved two victims, there were three others who alleged assaults by Stevens.  

Stevens testified in his own defense, but Karapetian told jurors they saw the man on his best day.

“He likes to be in control of every situation especially with women,” Karapetian said. “You saw how he treated me with my questioning.”

Stevens also called himself an animal and sick when he committed the prior rapes, Karapetian said.

“The evidence in this case established the defendant is still those things,” Karapetian said. “When I asked him if the corridor behind Saks Fifth Avenue was dark, what did he say? ‘Not as dark as I’d like it be.’”

Defense attorney Adrian Galvan said what his client did previous was horrendous, but that does not prove he committed rape in 2013.

“If we take what happened on Sept. 21, 2013, I would submit to you that there is reasonable doubt,” Galvan said, adding that the prior convictions are not proof beyond a reasonable doubt the latest allegation is true.

The defense attorney contended the GPS monitoring equipment Stevens wore at the time of the attack raises doubt he had time to commit rape as the victim testified.

Galvan also questioned whether a rape could occur when the girl’s straight-leg jeans were at her ankles and her legs were on the ground.

No surveillance videos or witnesses exist showing Stevens taking the girl off State Street, leaving doubt where the alleged kidnapping began, Galvan said.

“Ryan Stevens is adamant about his innocence as you saw,” Galvan said.

Jurors must decide how credible the witnesses were while weighing the other evidence in the case, Galvan said. 

DNA evidence also was limited in the case that the defense attorney claimed was not sufficiently investigated by police. 

However, the DNA found on the victim’s breast, the defense attorney said, occurred during an interaction earlier in the day between the defendant and victim at Needles Park.

Galvan noted the jury could consider a number of lesser crimes, but suggested the panel should find Stevens not guilty of those also.

“As the (jury) instruction indicates, just because he’s a convicted rapist doesn’t mean that he’s guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” Galvan said. “And it’s insufficient by itself to prove that Mr. Stevens is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of counts one and two.”

After dismissing the jury Friday, Judge John McGregor conducted a brief hearing to determine Stevens is a habitual sex offender and that the verdict counted as a third strike.

When he returns for sentencing Sept. 23, Stevens faces 32 years to life in state prison. 

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.