Prosecutor dismisses 2 sex assault charges against lawmaker
ST. ALBANS >> A day after a former aide acknowledged changing her story about alleged sexual assaults committed by a Vermont lawmaker, a prosecutor dismissed charges that could have brought the politician two life sentences.
It was a stunning conclusion to suspended Sen. Norman McAllister's trial.
"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," Deputy State's Attorney Diane Wheeler told Judge Robert Mello.
Mello then dismissed the charges and said the court would inform jurors their services would no longer be needed.
McAllister, who has pleaded not guilty in the case, still faces a second trial on sex offenses involving two other women. He declined to comment Thursday.
His first trial began Wednesday with the 21-year-old woman, who also worked at McAllister's farm in Franklin and later at the Statehouse, telling jurors of repeated forced intercourse and oral sex at the hands of the senator.
During his cross-examination, defense lawyer David Williams got the woman to acknowledge numerous instances in which she told strikingly different stories in her initial interviews with police, her later sworn statements in pre-trial depositions and her testimony to the jury.
In a frequently annoyed tone, she answered "Correct," and "Yeah," as Williams asked her questions like, "You told two spectacularly different stories, correct?"
Wheeler would not say what new information had come to light Wednesday evening to cause her to drop the charges. "I don't want anything to affect any future trials," she said.
Defense lawyer Brooks McArthur said there was no new revelation, merely a review by lawyers of the day's testimony.
"When they listened to her testimony yesterday, reviewed that testimony overnight, they realized that they were going to have a very difficult time meeting their burden," McArthur said.
The Associated Press generally doesn't name people who say they were sexually assaulted.
The 64-year-old lawmaker from Franklin County has maintained his innocence since his arrest outside the Statehouse in Montpelier on May 7, 2015, a week before the end of last year's legislative session.
McAllister was charged with six counts. At the request of the defense team, the court last month agreed to hear the charges in two separate trials. Four charges — one of felony sexual assault and three of misdemeanor prohibited acts — are expected to be tried in the fall.
Wheeler asked the court to schedule a hearing in about 30 days about the second trial so lawyers can address scheduling and any other issues. One of the two alleged victims in that case has since died, and McArthur said the defense also would challenge the credibility of witnesses in that trial.
McArthur had high praise for Wheeler's decision, calling her "very ethical" and saying she "did exactly the right thing."
Earlier this year, the Senate suspended McAllister, a move unprecedented in Vermont. McAllister last month filed papers to seek re-election.
Majority Leader Sen. Phil Baruth, D-Chittenden, and Minority Leader Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, both stood by the decision to suspend McAallister, which came on a 20-10 vote.
"The Senate is not a court of law," Benning said Thursday. "It runs by its own set of rules and it has a right to operate without dysfunction."
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