Lawyer: Admitted lie made state drop charges against state senator
MONTPELIER >> The lawyer for the accuser in a suspended Vermont state senator's rape trial says the state decided to drop the charges after the accuser admitted outside the courtroom that she had lied on the witness stand about something not central to the case.
That admitted lie came on top of numerous inconsistencies in five sworn statements the accuser gave in the case against Franklin County Republican Sen. Norman McAllister. It was those sworn statements that formed the basis for the two sexual assault charges that could have brought the 64-year-old farmer and legislator two life sentences.
Burlington lawyer Karen Shingler, representing the 21-year-old woman who accused McAllister of repeated sexual assaults, confirmed in an interview with The Associated Press that her client had lied during testimony June 15 about something tangential to the case. In her testimony, the woman downplayed her friendship with and denied kissing a man she worked with on McAllister's farm. After court was done for the day, she admitted that she had kissed her co-worker.
The following morning, Deputy State's Attorney Diane Wheeler asked — and Judge Robert Mello agreed — that the charges be dismissed.
"Based on some information that came to light last evening that I've shared with the defense and with the court, the state is in the position to have to dismiss," Wheeler told the judge. She would not elaborate afterward, saying she didn't want to taint a trial set for later this year in which McAllister faces additional charges.
Messages left for Wheeler and her boss, Franklin County State's Attorney James Hughes, drew no immediate response.
Vincent Illuzzi, a former state senator who is a state's attorney in Essex County, said learning of the accuser's lie — even a lie only loosely connected to the McAllister case — left the state with only two options.
"You correct the record and risk further undermining the credibility of the complaining witness, or you dismiss the action," he said. "The state cannot rely on known false testimony."
Some of the inconsistencies in the accuser's sworn statements concerned the first of what she variously said were four or up to 30 sexual assaults against her. In sworn statements, she gave starkly differing accounts of the time, manner and place of the first assault. The time shifted in her accounts from the day she started working on McAllister's farm to two or three weeks later; she gave versions on whether the first assault involved oral or vaginal sex and whether it occurred in McAllister's house or an old barn nearby.
McAllister was arrested outside the Statehouse on May 7, 2015, and arraigned the next day on three counts of sexual assault — each of which could bring a life sentence — and three less serious sex charges. He was suspended by the Senate in January but has maintained his innocence throughout and filed papers in May to seek re-election. This month's trial concerned two of the sex assault charges. He still faces a second trial on sex offenses involving two other women.
Outside the courthouse after the charges were dropped, and again in an interview this past week, defense lawyer Brooks McArthur argued that the accuser's lack of credibility, which became apparent during the cross-examination, was the real reason the case was dropped.
McAllister declined to comment after last week's court action but in an interview Thursday with the AP said he, too, doubted the accuser's admitted lie was the real reason the state dropped the charges.
"Do you think something as dumb as that would be enough for them to drop all the charges?" he asked. Instead, he used an expletive to describe the veracity of the complaining witness's testimony.
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