BRATTLEBORO -- With kidnapping suspect Salahdin Trowell sitting nearby, defense attorney Robert Sussman summed up the case against his client this way:
"No rope, no duct tape, no weapons, no hostages, no ransom notes made of newspaper clippings," Sussman told a jury Tuesday, adding that there were "no injuries -- not even any touching."
That's why Sussman believes Trowell, 30, should be acquitted of felony charges resulting from a May 23, 2013, incident in which police say two Brattleboro women were kidnapped from the Flat Street parking garage entrance.
But on the first day of Trowell's trial in Windham Superior Court Criminal Division, prosecutors said the evidence is clear that Trowell directed the kidnapping and robbed one of the victims as part of an attempt to recoup a drug debt.
"You are not, in this case, going to hear that a weapon was ever located," Windham County Deputy State's Attorney Steven Brown said. "In fact, you are not going to hear that a weapon was ever seen."
"That's not what this case is about," he added.
There initially were four defendants in the case: Trowell, of Brattleboro; Marcus W. Koritz, 20, of Brattleboro and Springfield, Mass.; James J. Manning, 29, of Jersey City, N.J.; and Jacobina Carter, 39, of Brattleboro.
Manning has struck a plea agreement and is expected to testify during Trowell's trial. Koritz and Carter are scheduled for April 3 pre-trial conferences.
Trowell is charged with kidnapping as well as assault and robbery.
Authorities claim the case centers on intimidation and fear. One of the victims told investigators that Trowell "is a known drug dealer in Brattleboro," according to an affidavit filed at the time of the incident.
"She said he is violent and threatens people regularly," the police affidavit says. "She said that, when people owe him money, he threatens them and is violent. She stated that drug users and subordinate drug dealers associated with Trowell are afraid of him."
That is the prosecution's theory for why the two alleged victims did not run or call for help when Trowell, Koritz and Manning allegedly approached them outside the parking garage.
The Reformer generally does not identify crime victims.
Authorities say the three men were trying to find another man who owed money for "stolen" heroin. Asked to describe the demeanor of the men, one of the victims testified Tuesday that they were "angry. They all looked very upset."
She told jurors that a group of men surrounded her friend in an initial encounter outside the garage. The other victim handed over $50, which Trowell took.
At some point, Brattleboro police were summoned to the area for a disturbance complaint. Trowell, Koritz and Manning had departed, and the officer arrived, questioned several other men and left the scene.
The two women, however, did not leave. And authorities say Trowell, Koritz and Manning soon returned, this time in a white Cadillac Escalade driven by Carter.
Prosecutors say the women were ordered into the Cadillac, which Trowell had exited. Trowell told his cohorts that, "if he had gone with us, he would be the one to (expletive) us up or kill us," one of the victims testified Tuesday.
She also recalled that Trowell told Koritz and Manning "to watch us and not let us go anywhere."
The women were driven to Western Avenue, where court documents say Koritz and Manning entered an apartment in another -- unsuccessful -- attempt to recoup drug money.
Meanwhile, police said, the two victims had been calling 911 and texting friends. That led, a short time later, to police stopping the Cadillac on Western Avenue and freeing the victims, who were unharmed.
Koritz, Manning and Carter were arrested on the spot. Trowell was arrested later in the day after police said they found him hiding underneath a bed in a Canal Street apartment.
Brown, in his opening argument Tuesday, walked jurors through the events of May 23, 2013 and pledged that they "will hear evidence of the threats that the defendant made." From the moment of the initial confrontation outside the parking garage, the victim who had been surrounded was "scared," Brown said. "She was intimidated."
Those words came up again during the testimony of one of the victims Tuesday morning. She said she was "too scared" to speak to police outside the parking garage, and then felt too intimidated to call 911 when she first was ushered into the Cadillac.
"I had somebody sitting right next to me," she said. "If I called for help, he would take the phone."
But Sussman made clear that he will challenge the victims' credibility. In his opening argument, Sussman told jurors that both women are "on probation for what's termed crimes of dishonesty."
He also noted Manning's plea and characterized him as "someone who got out of jail in exchange for testifying."
Sussman argued that "it wasn't Sal who was being aggressive against these women." And he pointed out that the alleged victims did not seek assistance despite seemingly having multiple opportunities to do so.
When police initially responded to the parking garage, the women "stayed away from their source of rescue when it was right there," Sussman said.
He also noted derisively that "this is a kidnapping where they were allowed to bring their cell phones."
The trial is scheduled to continue through Friday.
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.