A Bosnian Serb woman testified via a pre-taped video in federal court today, saying that she was raped in 1992 by a masked man during an ethnic conflict.
Prosecutors allege that man is Edin Sakoc, a Burlington resident who is on trial this week on charges he lied about his actions in wartime Bosnia when he applied for American citizenship.
The woman, 49 years old at the time she says she was assaulted, was one of a few ethnic Serbs who remained in her tiny village of Pocitelj as brutal fighting broke out across Bosnia. Other Serbs, fearing violence from ethnic Croats and Muslims, had fled, but the woman's mother didn't want to leave.
In July 1992, she said, two armed men stormed the house where they were staying. They took the woman, saying they would interrogate her and bring her back. Instead, they took her to a prison camp.
One of the men raped her twice, once inside a home where they stopped, and again in the backseat.
"He cursed my mother, pushed me down, and raped me," the woman testified. "Did whatever he wanted, and that's it."
After the first assault, she said, the man kicked her, leaving a scar below her right knee that she showed to the attorneys.
As a general practice, Seven Days does not identify the victims of alleged sexual assaults.
As with all Bosnian witnesses in the trial, the woman testified last year in Bosnia. Jurors viewed a video recording of that testimony this morning during the third day of the Sakoc trial. He faces two felony charges of lying on citizenship applications by concealing his involvement in the rape and the murders of the woman's mother and aunt. He faces possible prison time and deportation if convicted by a U.S. District Court jury.
Defense attorneys challenged the woman’s damning testimony in two ways. First, they emphasized that the woman has never positively identified her attacker as Sakoc. She said he was wearing a mask and she did not know him.
She testified that her assailant was the man who drove the car, not the man in the passenger seat. Other witnesses have said that Sakoc (pronounced 'Sah-coach') was driving that night.
And defense lawyers emphasized that the woman had concealed the alleged rape for years, coming forward only recently.
On at least seven occasions, during interviews with investigators and in legal proceedings in which she was under oath, the woman made no mention of rape. In painstaking cross-examination, Steven Barth went through her several of her past statements, asking again and again why she hadn’t mentioned the rape.
"I was ashamed of myself," the woman said when asked why she kept it secret. "I wasn't scared of anybody else, but I was ashamed of my own self. That's it."
When American investigators arrived in Pocitelj — it is still unclear from the testimony and court documents what precipitated the investigation — others told them about her rape. Only when investigators confronted the woman with those statements did say she had been sexually assaulted.
"Then I admitted the truth," she said during her testimony. "I had intended to hide it only for myself. I admitted to the truth."
Her account was bolstered by testimony played later in the day by man who lived in the home where one of the alleged rapes occurred.
Zarko Cutura was a soldier in the Croat Army. And he knew Sakoc well. They had worked for the local railroad together for several years before the war.
On the morning of the alleged rape, Sakoc approached his friend with a question. “He asked me if I could bring a girl to the house in the evening,” Cutura testified.
Later that night, Sakoc brought the woman to a house where Cutura was staying, according to Cutura. Cutura recognized her from the village. “It was obvious she was scared,” Cutura said. Sakoc led her upstairs. Before long, Cutura said, he could hear the floor above him creaking, and the woman screaming and crying.
About 20 minutes later, she came downstairs with Sakoc, holding her clothes under her arm, Cutura said.
Sakoc asked Cutura and another soldier staying in the house, “Who is next?”
“We said, ‘We don’t, we will not rape,’” Cutura said.
Sakoc then left with the woman, he said. He drove her to a prison camp, stopping once along the way to rape her again, prosecutors allege in court documents.