ST. ALBANS — The woman whom former state Sen. Norm McAllister is charged with sexually assaulting testified Thursday that she agreed to trade sex for rent and a job only out of desperation.
The two met in 2012 while the woman was living in transitional housing with her infant daughter and working to regain custody of her other children. She was unable to find the work or housing that would allow her to do that, she said.
She responded to a Craigslist post looking for a farmhand. McAllister had made the post to find someone to work with goats on his Highgate farm.
It was a job that included the prospect of housing. During two initial phone calls discussing the position, McAllister indicated he had more qualified applicants, the woman said on the stand Thursday, the second day of McAllister’s trial.
In a third phone call she said that if hired she was willing to do anything he asked, offering to clean the house and cook meals, she testified. McAllister pressed her on this point, she said.
“No, I mean like anything,” McAllister said, repeating the question and placing his emphasis on the last word, according to the woman’s testimony. At that point, she said, it dawned on her that he meant sex. Seeing no other option, she said, she agreed.
“As a man that’s what I like to hear,” McAllister told her, according to her testimony.
The woman was in her late 30s at the time, McAllister in his early 60s.
She said McAllister kissed and groped her during an interview at the farm and that their sexual relationship continued from there. It consisted mostly of her performing oral sex on him, but they would sometimes have intercourse, she testified.
“None of it felt consensual,” she said. “Sex is not something I was indicating when I told him that I’d be willing to do anything originally, and it wasn’t something that I would have offered.”
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Deputy State’s Attorney John Lavoie asked her if the majority of the sexual encounters nonetheless met the legal definition for consent, meaning that her words or actions indicated she participated willingly.
She said yes, but added that twice McAllister performed sexual acts on her to which she did not consent. In one instance they had anal sex, she said, something she had told him she did not want to do.
In another instance he put his fist inside her vagina, causing her great pain, she said. When she cried out he shushed her and continued, she said.
During a recording of a phone conversation between the two, which was played for the jury a second time Thursday, the woman asks McAllister if they could continue their sexual relationship with the understanding that he would not perform either of those acts on her again.
After a long pause, McAllister says, “I can think about it.”
McAllister faces a felony sexual assault charge stemming from the allegedly nonconsensual sexual acts, which carries a sentence of three years to life in prison. He also faces two prostitution charges, which carry up to a one-year sentence each.
One of the prostitution charges encompasses the entire allegedly coercive nature of their relationship, which the state says was predicated on trading sex for rent and employment. The second stems from an alleged incident where a friend of McAllister’s paid to have sex with the woman. The money the friend gave McAllister paid down the woman’s utility bill, according to authorities.
During cross examination, defense attorney Robert Katims drew out details of the abuse that court records show McAllister’s accuser suffered at the hands of her ex-husband. Katims painted her as manipulative and dishonest — willing to lie under oath when it suited her purposes.
The woman on Thursday admitted having lied under oath during a 2012 domestic violence case involving her ex-husband. She claims she lied to get him out of their house by making an accusation she later recanted.
“You repeated that lie four times,” Katims said. “Your testimony is you did that originally on March 17 purposely, right? You did it because you wanted to achieve a result.”
She agreed, saying the result she wanted at the time was a relief-from-abuse order against her ex-husband. When the state sought the same testimony in a criminal case against the ex-husband, she changed her story.
Though the woman got visibly upset while describing her allegations of sexual abuse by McAllister, crying and becoming red in the face, she appeared calm and self-assured during the cross-examination.
Katims also brought up that during the domestic violence case she told a judge she had difficulties with her memory and was once diagnosed with dissociative personality disorder. She clarified that her diagnosis was subsequently changed to acute stress syndrome.
Answering questions later from the state’s attorney, she said she had no doubts about her allegations against McAllister and that if she was unsure about any details, she had responded that she didn’t remember.
Katims also took aim at her assertion that she agreed to the sex-for-rent scheme to be reunited with her children, zeroing in on the fact that she kept seeing her ex-husband after getting the job with McAllister.
The Department for Children and Families had made clear she was to have no contact with her ex-husband and doing so would jeopardize her efforts to regain custody. “You did the one thing you couldn’t do,” he said.
Her parental rights were eventually terminated due to the contact with her ex-husband, and Katims pointed out the two are still together. He suggested to the jury that her primary motivation for her allegations against McAllister was to preserve her relationship with her ex-husband.
The state briefly called two detectives who helped build the case against McAllister. Detective Sgt. Benjamin Katz testified that he had coached the woman on making the recorded phone call, writing down notes for her while it took place. A judge issued a warrant approving the taping.
After calling on the detectives, the state rested its case. Katims plans to call the ex-husband to the stand Friday — the only witness he said the defense is planning to call. The case could be turned over to the jury as early as midday, after closing statements from both sides.
Thursday’s proceedings began with the dismissal of a female juror who had said the day before that she was taking notes because she had some trouble with her memory. Further questioning revealed she had partial memory loss from lupus, a detail that was not uncovered during the extensive jury draw process.
The jury now consists of five women and seven men.