Accuser Testifies at Rape Trial
Parker Gilbert remains alone in the Grafton County Superior Court room, Tuesday, March 18, 2014 during a recess in his trial for allegedly raping a Dartmouth College classmate in May 2013. On the trial's opening day, the State of New Hampshire and the defense gave their opening arguments and was followed by testimony from the victim's father and the victim herself.
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Family and supporters of defendant Parker Gilbert stand as the jury enters Grafton County Superior Court in North Haverhill to try Gilbert on rape charges Tuesday, March 18, 2014.
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North Haverhill — The former Dartmouth College student who alleges she was raped in a dorm room last spring testified Tuesday that she vomited after seeing her alleged attacker a few days after the incident.
Meanwhile, the defense teams’ cross-examination focused on the accuser’s history of alcohol consumption and inaccurate statements she made to a police investigator about her use of social media.
At one point, a prosecutor asked the woman how she would respond to someone who suggested that what happened with the defendant had been consensual sex.
“I would say I was sleeping in my bed, and I was woken up and surprised. I would also say I was terrified,” the woman said. “A constant stream of horrible, horrible words were being said to me. And I would also say that I said no several times, and it wasn’t heeded.”
The woman, 19, spent about four hours on the stand Tuesday, day two of the trial of Parker C. Gilbert, a former Dartmouth student who has been charged with seven felony counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault and one misdemeanor count of criminal trespassing.
Prosecutors allege that in the early morning hours of last May 2, Gilbert entered the woman’s unlocked dorm room and began sexually assaulting her while she was asleep. When the woman woke up and realized what was happening, she testified, she told Gilbert to stop.
While many facts of the case are in dispute, two things are agreed on: there was penetrative sex between Gilbert and the woman, and Gilbert sent the woman an email in the days after the encounter in which he apologized.
During the defense’s opening statements, attorney Robert Cary laid out a different narrative of what occurred in the early morning hours in the woman’s dorm room in Berry Hall on the Dartmouth campus.
“There was a sexual encounter that night,” Cary told jurors. “Both people were drunk. It was clumsy, awkward, drunk college sex.”
Cary read the email from Gilbert to the woman in full to the 14 jurors, two of whom will be alternates: “I wanted to offer my apologies for my actions on Wednesday. While I do not remember much of that night, judging by your reaction to seeing me last night and the small parts I do remember, I believe I must have acted inappropriately and I am so so sorry. Drunkenness is no excuse and I don’t know what else I could do but off my sincere apologies. If there’s anything I can do, please let me know.”
The woman testified that she had gone to a fraternity on the Friday following her encounter with Gilbert and ran into him. They made eye contact, she said, and she became nauseous, went into a coat closet and vomited.
Cary acknowledged in his opening statement that Gilbert encountered the woman after the incident, and Gilbert noticed her reaction, the lawyer said, so he sent an apology email.
“But he does not say I committed violent sexual assault because he didn’t do that,” Cary said.
In an opening statement and through prosecutor Paul Fitzgerald’s questioning of the accuser, the state offered a narrative of events to the jury. (As a general practice, the Valley News does not identify victims of alleged sexual assaults.)
Last year, May 1 was a Wednesday. That evening, the woman was participating in rehearsal for a singing group when she received a phone call from her father, who told her that their family dog had kidney failure and would need to be euthanized.
The woman testified she was very fond of the dog and the news caused her great distress, and that she was preoccupied by it.
She said she returned to her dorm later that night and was studying with a friend. Wednesday night is one of the nights that fraternities typically hold social events, and the other friends were encouraging her to go out.
The woman testified that she decided to go out and drank three shots of vodka before heading to the Beta Alpha Omega fraternity, where she met her friends.
“Were you approached by the defendant?” Fitzgerald asked.
“Multiple times,” the woman testified.
The first time, the woman said, she felt a tap on her right shoulder and thought it was Gilbert. Later, the woman said she was tapped on the shoulder again, and she said she turned around and asked Gilbert, “Why are you tapping me on the shoulder?”
The female student said Gilbert didn’t really answer her question and instead introduced her to some of his rugby teammates.
“I said, ‘Hi,’ and I felt really strange about it, and I turned around and continued to talk with my friends,” the woman said.
The woman testified she was later talking to another man at the party about her dog and was suddenly overwhelmed with sadness and started to cry. Soon after, the woman and her friends decided to head back to her dorm at Berry Hall.
Once back at the dorm, the woman said, she asked one of her friends to stay the night with her in her bed because she felt lonely and afraid.
“I just didn’t want to sleep alone that night,” the woman said.
During his opening statement, Fitzgerald explained that the friend who stayed the night takes medications that causes her to be a heavy sleeper and that the effects are exacerbated by alcohol.
The woman testified she fell asleep very quickly and the next thing she remembers is waking up to Gilbert assaulting her. The woman said Gilbert was yelling vulgar things at her and called her names.
“I had just never heard of anyone speak to me with that much hatred in their voice and I was terrified,” the woman said.
When the incident was over, th woman testified, Gilbert left the room and she pulled the covers over her head and went to sleep.
In the morning, the woman said, she told her friend — the one who slept next to her in her bed — about Gilbert entering her bedroom.
Her friend said something along the lines of, “He’s cute,” according to the woman.
Her friend’s reaction had disappointed her, the woman testified, and she wanted to talk to someone else about it, so she met up with another friend and told her what happened.
Ultimately, a Safety & Security officer drove the woman to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center to be examined.
During her testimony, the woman wept on numerous occasions.
When the lawyers would approach the bench to confer with the judge, she often took deep breaths, looked up at the ceiling or closed her eyes. During questioning, she kept her eyes forward and did not appear to look toward the defense table.
When the court took a break for lunch, the woman was one of the last people to leave the courtroom, and she could be heard sobbing as she walked out.
Gilbert, who wore a black suit jacket and a blue tie, sat between his attorneys on Tuesday and did not speak in the courtroom. He looked directly at his accuser throughout her testimony.
Gilbert, who turned 21 on Monday, has dual citizenship in Britain and the United States, according to Cary’s opening statement.
Gilbert’s father was transferred to London when Gilbert was 6 years old, but he has strong ties to New Hampshire, where his grandparents live.
Gilbert is represented by three attorneys, including George Ostler, of DesMeules, Olmstead & Ostler in Norwich; Cathy Green, of Green and Utter in Manchester, N.H.; and Cary, who graduated in 1986 from Dartmouth, where he played football, and works for the high-profile Washington, D.C,. law firm of Williams & Connolly
In 2006, Cary helped represent Duke University lacrosse players who were wrongly accused of sexually assaulting a stripper.
The case is being prosecuted by Grafton County Attorney Lara Saffo and Fitzgerald.
During the defense’s opening arguments, Cary alleged that the second friend who the woman confided in picked apart the woman’s account of the alleged assault, causing the woman to become increasingly distraught. It was the friend who insisted that the woman see a medical examiner, according to Cary.
“Now she’s on a path that she can’t escape,” Cary said. “She’s trapped, ladies and gentlemen, by a story that does not make sense.”
The defense expects to call a nurse practitioner to the stand who is also a certified medical investigator and certified law enforcement instructor. Cary said she would testify that the accuser had no abrasions, no lacerations and no evidence of blunt force trauma.
The defense, Cary said, hired a retired FBI agent to conduct sound checks in the dorm room. The woman claims she yelled when she woke up and told Gilbert to stop, but the woman’s roommate was in an adjoining room and has said she didn’t hear the female student yell.
The FBI agent would testify that even with the door closed, the roommate should have been able to hear everything, Cary said.
The roommate is also on record as saying she heard five to 10 minutes of whispering, Cary said in his opening statement.
Despite the female student’s allegations that she yelled out and Gilbert was yelling at her, Cary said, the roommate, who was not intoxicated, says she only heard sounds of consensual sex.
During cross examination by Green on Tuesday, the defense began to delve into the accuser’s personal life, including her social media use and her drinking habits.
The woman was asked if she recalled receiving a phone call from Hanover Police Capt. Frank Moran, who investigated her complaint, in which he asked about the woman’s social media account.
Green told the court that the woman told Moran that she had a Twitter account, but hadn’t used it since fall 2012. And she said she had stopped using her Instagram account, which is a platform to post photographs, after the sexual encounter because she no longer wanted to post pictures of herself on the Internet.
Green then presented copies of photos from the female student’s Instragram account, many of which had been posted after the May 2 incident. The photos included images of the female student with friends, including one in which they were holding a potato with a smiley face drawn on it.
Green also shared Twitter posts that were made during the last school year, including one that said, “Oh tequila, where is my last night” and “I need a hug this minute #goingtobiodrunk #asperusual”.
Green contended the woman told Moran that she wasn’t using these accounts because she didn’t want police to see their contents.
At that point, the woman interrupted Green and said that she wanted to make a statement. She said she was in a taxi at the time that Moran called her and had just gotten off a plane.
“I was not intending to hide anything,” the female student said. “In fact, I am fine with most of these pictures and tweets being read. I wasn’t trying to hide anything. I had honestly forgotten.”
Green later asked the victim about her drinking habits and the number of drinks she had on the night in question.
The woman testified she kept vodka in her room, and her friend brought her a cup of vodka with three or four shots in it while she was doing her homework that night.
“It’s not unusual for you to drink alcohol while doing your homework?” Green asked.
The woman said it was not a common practice because her grades were important to her at the time. But it did sometimes happen.
Green then read another tweet from the woman: “Two shots is a good amount of shots before starting homework.”
“My Twitter, especially my Twitter is not really serious,” the woman said. “It’s more of a joke.”
Green then mentioned that the woman told Moran that she often drinks as many as 10 shots in a night.
“At the time, I had a pretty high tolerance of alcohol,” the woman said. “It wasn’t uncommon for me to take eight shots before going to a party.”
The woman testified she only had about three shots before she headed to the fraternity on the night in question, and she likely had two or three beers at the party.
The courtroom gallery, which seats 48, was at capacity on Tuesday. About two dozen friends and relatives of Gilbert’s, including his mother and father, sat behind the defense table.
Across the courtroom were people who had come to support the accuser.
Among them were Peggy O’Neil, the director of WISE, and Maureen McDonald, community relations director for the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence in Concord, N.H.
They both said they were attending to show support for the woman, and also to see how the trial plays out.
“It’s rare for cases to go this far,” McDonald said. “We’re interested in seeing it because we’re interested in making sure more victims get their day in court and finding ways to support them.”
The trial recessed while the accuser was still on the stand.
The trial is scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. today at Grafton Superior Court in North Haverhill.
Sarah Brubeck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3223.