Sen. Norm McAllister (left) listens in court Wednesday with Brooks McArthur, one of his attorneys.
The 21-year-old woman who has accused Sen. Norm McAllister of sexual assault spent several hours on the witness stand Wednesday describing in graphic detail incidents in which she said he forced himself on her in a barn, his house and at his apartment in Montpelier.
“When I wouldn’t give up, he threw me over his shoulder,” the slight, 4-foot-11-inch woman said, describing an alleged incident at McAllister’s Franklin County farmhouse. Asked what she was thinking as he forced her to have sex, she said: “That I was in hell. I didn’t want it happening.”
For most of the afternoon, however, the woman faced a bristly exchange with one of McAllister’s lawyers as he laid out numerous differences in the accounts she had told to the jury, lawyers and police, each time under oath.
“Would you agree that what you told me under oath just a few weeks ago is different than what you just told the jury?” David Williams asked.
“I guess so,” she mumbled. Dressed in a green plaid shirt and jeans, with her hair in a ponytail, the woman was visibly uncomfortable throughout her testimony, at times sitting with arms crossed, impatient with questions from both the prosecution and defense.
The accuser milked goats on McAllister’s farm starting when she was in high school. She also cleaned his house and later worked as his unofficial legislative assistant in Montpelier.
Defense attorney Brooks McArthur confers with Franklin County Deputy State's Attorney Diane Wheeler and State's Attorney Jim Hughes.
Franklin County Deputy State’s Attorney Diane Wheeler told jurors in her opening statement, “This case is about a secret.” The woman, she said, “never told about the sexual assaults. She didn’t know how, she didn’t know where to turn.”
With McAllister sitting across the courtroom and showing no outward reaction, the woman testified that he forced her to have oral sex more than three times and to have intercourse more than five times.
Charges against him involving two other women are expected to be heard in a second trial.
Williams ended Wednesday’s court action by accusing the woman of fabricating the accusations to fend off her then-boyfriend’s jealousy over her work as McAllister’s legislative assistant.
“The only way you could placate [the ex-boyfriend] was to implicate Norm,” Williams asserted.
“What?” the woman responded. “Am I hearing what you said correctly?”
“He probably threatened to leave you,” Williams said.
“Not that I recall,” she retorted defiantly.
Many in the 12-member jury sat stone-faced as Williams peppered McAllister’s accuser with questions throughout the afternoon.
The woman told a state police detective a year ago that McAllister assaulted her on her very first day working for him on his dairy goat farm, Williams noted. In court Wednesday, she told the jury that the first assault took place several weeks into her job.
The woman testified that she wasn’t good at remembering when specific things happen. “I remember the bad things that happen, but I don’t remember the order,” she said.
She made no attempt to explain why details she provided changed from one interview to another.
Williams called up the woman’s Facebook page to point out that long after McAllister allegedly assaulted her, she boasted that she enjoyed working on his 2014 Senate reelection bid and urged friends to vote for him.
Williams noted she was volunteering on the campaign, so she couldn’t argue that she only worked for McAllister because she needed the money.
The trial continues Thursday, with the defense expected to continue questioning the accuser. Though lawyers on both sides have indicated it will last for two days, the trial is progressing more slowly than they expected.
Wheeler said she expected the pace to pick up Thursday.
Wednesday began with Wheeler expressing worry that McAllister’s accuser might be a no-show because she didn’t want to face TV coverage of the high-profile trial.
“She said she would not testify if she was going to be videotaped,” Kelly Woodward, a victim’s advocate with the state’s attorney’s office, told Judge Robert Mello that morning. “She’s afraid of people not liking her or harassing her.”
A day earlier, Mello had ruled that media could not record the woman’s testimony either on video or audio. But attorney Robert Hemley, representing the Burlington Free Press, objected, arguing that the public has an interest in evaluating the credibility of a witness. He noted that the woman had willingly told her story to a Seven Days reporter last year.
McAllister’s attorneys also argued that the defendant wanted the public to hear the accusations.
Mello called the woman to the stand without the jury present to explain her fears. She said she worried that people would identify her face and voice.
Mello ruled that audiotaping of the woman’s testimony would be permitted, but he barred video recording.
Media members were the focus of another issue in court Wednesday. Seven Days reporter Mark Davis and Vermont Public Radio reporter Peter Hirschfeld both roamed the hallway outside the courtroom, having been subpoenaed to testify about interviews each had conducted with McAllister.
Hemley, representing them as well, fought against the use of reporters as witnesses in a criminal trial.
By late afternoon, both reporters had been dismissed as witnesses without being called to the stand.