Silverthorne sex assault accuser takes the stand a second time after twist in case
Sexual assault is widely considered the most under-reported class of crime, often because victims are loath to re-live their trauma before dozens of their peers in a courtroom.
On Wednesday, a Summit County woman accusing four men of sexually assaulting her in March 2016 took the stand to do just that.
A jury will decide next week whether or not Paul Garvin is guilty of the crime as his co-defendents await trial. Garvin is mounting a strong legal defense and has more than a half-dozen people supporting him in the courtroom every day.
Nonetheless, the woman’s testimony over the course of two days was a display of strength in the face of vulnerability, one where she also had to confront the principal gap in her story: the vast majority of the night of March 17, 2016, when she says the men had sex with her while she was blacked out.
For the prosecution, the case could be a precedent-setting win in the legal gray area of alcohol and consent. For the defense, acquittal would vindicate a man who says he had no reason to believe what he did was unwanted.
But before the woman’s second day of testimony Wednesday, a new cloud emerged over the central question of her mental state on that St. Patrick’s Day night in Silverthorne.
“The victim came to me today and gave me additional information,” District Attorney Bruce Brown said before the jury entered.
The woman had told Brown that her decision-making might have been affected by the interaction of alcohol with the Prozac she was taking at the time, an area of inquiry prosecutors indicated they wouldn’t pursue in pre-trial hearings.
Prozac typically comes with warnings against mixing it with alcohol, noting that it can cause impairment in thinking and judgment in some cases.
It was a curveball for both sides, coming when the opportunity to consult an expert witness on the matter had long passed. Both sides knew about the Prozac, but it was understood that it wouldn’t be a major factor at trial.
“Her mental state is definitely at issue here,” said Judge Karen Romeo, visibly frustrated. “I’m shocked that wasn’t inquired into. That is the crux of the case.”
Defense attorney Todd Barson weighed in, also citing investigators’ failure to follow up on the victim’s presumptive positive test for cocaine at the hospital the next day. Since the test wasn’t confirmed, Romeo ruled it wasn’t reliable enough to present to the jury.
“How can the prosecution not inquire about medications, specifically Prozac they had known about, on the day in question?” Barson asked.
“This is a complete dereliction of the pursuit of truth in this case,” he added later.
The cocaine is a key element of the emerging defense narrative, which seems to claim that the woman did cocaine with the four men in an apartment before initiating the sex.
Romeo decided to limit questioning on the Prozac issue to the woman’s past experience mixing it with alcohol.
“I don’t know if there had been an interaction,” the woman said under questioning from prosecutor Lisa Hunt. “I drink so rarely that alcohol affects me no matter what.”
Barson delivered a withering cross-examination, laying out his counter-narrative in minute detail. His questions implied that the woman initiated, directed and encouraged the group sex.
Sometimes forcefully, the woman said she didn’t remember saying the things Barson’s account attributed to her. The only thing she does remember, she says, was several seconds of being held down and screaming in pain.
The testimony, wrenching at times, left open some of the principal ambiguities in the trial. What has been made perfectly clear, however, is the scope of the woman’s injuries.
Wednesday’s testimony from two forensic nurse examiners again put the spotlight on the woman’s extensive bruises, scrapes and abrasions.
“This case was especially memorable for me,” forensic nurse examiner Kristi Hyde said. “There was so much injury to this woman, it was shocking, really.”
For nearly a half-hour, Hyde enumerated in detail more than two-dozen injuries she documented in her exam. Typically, only one page is needed to diagram injuries. For this case, Hyde said, she needed two.
Maddeningly, however, only the diagram was available; dozens of photographs taken of the injuries over the course of the six-hour exam had been lost. Apparently, there had been no SD in the camera, so the photos weren’t saved.
Thus, only the two photos the woman took the day after the alleged assault were presented to the jury.
In his cross-examination, Barson pointed out that no ligature marks were found on the woman’s wrists, neck or ankles. He also noted that a physical exam alone couldn’t prove whether or not sex was consensual.
The trial is set to continue until next Friday, Nov. 3.
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