UPDATED: McAllister acquitted of sexual assault, guilty of prostituting his accuser

Norm McAllister

Former lawmaker Norm McAllister on the third day of his trial in Vermont Superior Court in St. Albans Friday. Pool photo by the County Courier

ST. ALBANS — The jury in former state Sen. Norm McAllister’s sexual assault trial found him guilty on one count of misdemeanor prostitution Friday night after nearly four hours of deliberation.

McAllister, 65, was acquitted on the most serious charge he faced — felony sexual assault.

He was also acquitted on a second prostitution charge, one that encompassed his entire relationship with his accuser, which prosecutors had alleged was a coercive sex-for-rent scheme.

Speaking on the courthouse steps after the verdict was read, a red-eyed beleaguered looking McAllister told reporters he was glad he got to tell his side of the story. The former lawmaker had unexpectedly taken the stand in his own defense earlier in the day.

“I’m disappointed we didn’t get all of them, but at least the jury got to hear my side, and they believed most of it,” McAllister said, “I feel pretty well vindicated.”

His defense attorney Robert Katims said they would appeal the single conviction.

McAllister expressed concern about a pending civil suit brought by his accuser, in response to a reporter’s questions. “It’s going to be a concern,” he said.

The woman is seeking monetary damages, and the burden of proof is lower in civil cases than criminal.

McAllister’s son, Heath McAllister — who had given confrontational testimony earlier in the day and has been a constant presence throughout his father’s legal battle — told reporters that his father’s partial vindication had already come at a heavy price.

Defending against the charges had cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and forced McAllister to “sign over” the family farm, Heath said. It was unclear if Heath was referring just the latest trial or the entire case, which involved a separate trial last summer.

That trial involved a different accuser, a young woman who had interned with McAllister at the Statehouse. Prosecutors dropped the case after it emerged that the woman had lied about a detail of her relationship with another person who worked on McAllister’s farm.

The Franklin County state’s attorneys who prosecuted the case declined to comment as they left the courthouse.

The charge on which he was convicted stemmed from an incident in which McAllister prostituted his accuser, a woman living and working on his Highgate farm property, to a friend for money that he used to pay her light bill.

The misdemeanor charge carries a sentence of up to one year in prison, and it had not been a focus of the trial. Instead, the trial focused on the felony sexual assault charge, which could have sent McAllister to prison for life.

That felony charge centered around whether a sex act between McAllister and his accuser which she said caused her great pain was consensual or amounted to rape. However, during their deliberation the jury of seven men and five women asked several questions of the court about the incident where McAllister prostituted the woman to a friend.

The friend was not identified at any point during the trial or in any court papers filed during the case, which has stretched on for two-and-a-half years.

McAllister’s 2015 arrest at the Statehouse brought an abrupt halt to the Republican’s tenure, with his Senate colleagues suspending him before he went on to lose his seat in the 2016 primary.

The three-day trial culminated Friday afternoon with closing statements following McAllister’s surprise walk to the witness box, where he delivered testimony that contradicted his accuser at every turn, casting their relationship as that of occasional lovers who bonded over loss.

VTDigger does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault without their permission.

The prosecution focused on its strongest evidence, a recorded phone call between McAllister and his alleged victim where they discuss their sexual relationship in graphic detail, including sex acts that caused her pain, plans to prostitute her in the future and transactional elements of their relationship.

“How do you know that all these things happened? Because [the alleged victim] told you. Not only did [she] tell you that they happened, the defendant told you that they happened,” said Deputy State’s Attorney John Lavoie.

Lavoie acknowledged that McAllister and his defense had come up with an alternative explanation for “every damning statement made on that taped conversation,” but he asked the jury to consider their plausibility.

“The implausibility of his testimony on the stand here, verifies what’s really going on on the tape,” Lavoie said.

In his closing remarks, McAllister’s defense attorney, Robert Katims, sought to undermine the credibility of both his client’s accuser and the recorded conversation. Katims cast her as an adept manipulator willing to lie to get what she wants.

“The truth is not a major concern for [her]. She wants something she needs something that’s of higher value to her than the truth,” Katims said.

Lavoie countered that it was her past, including having told lies to preserve her entanglement with her ex-husband, that made her “the perfect victim.” She was poor, with no job and nowhere to live, making her vulnerable and easily exploited. If McAllister was caught, her checkered past would could be used to discredit her, Lavoie said.

Katims defended his client’s statements on the recording as innocent and not at all at odds with McAllister’s version of events. Instead, Katims suggested that the woman made false accusations against McAllister in order to preserve her relationship with her abusive ex-husband.

“It’s all about [her ex-husband]. It’s not to lose [her ex-husband]. If it’s just a consensual relationship with Mr. McAllister … well that’s not going to go over well with [her ex-husband].” Katims said.

Earlier in the trial, Katims had elicited testimony from the woman that she is still with her ex-husband.

In McAllister’s testimony, he said that, far from propositioning his accuser in 2012 when she was hired to milk goats on McAllister’s farm, the former lawmaker said the two had no sexual relationship until after his wife died in 2013. At that point, McAllister said she came onto him, initiating sexual contact while he was grief-stricken.

“It was a hard time for me. [She] had been pretty supportive. I spent a lot of days just falling apart,” he said. “One thing led to another, and she said, ‘I can make you feel better.’”

The two bonded over a shared loneliness during the winter holidays that year, McAllister said, as it was his first without his wife since they were married decades earlier, and she was separated from her children.

“We had a closeness, but it wasn’t — I guess we had an understanding. I don’t think it was love. It was just two needy people,” McAllister said.

That’s a wildly different account of how the relationship and how it started than his alleged victim gave on the stand Thursday. She told the court that, from the outset, McAllister made clear he expected sex, and sought and received oral sex days after they met.

When it came to the sex act that forms the basis for the most serious charge McAllister faces — a sexual assault charge that carries three years to life in prison — he said he put only a finger inside her vagina. He said she was enjoying what he was doing.

“All the sudden she said ‘This tickles. I can’t take anymore of that and she got up,’” he said.

In his accuser’s version, McAllister put his whole fist in her vagina. It was extremely painful, she said, causing her to cry out, to which McAllister responded by shushing her and telling her she was a good girl.

Katims again played the recorded conversation between the former lawmaker and his accuser, pausing the tape to ask questions. The former lawmaker testified that, at the time of that conversation, he did not know what the term “fisting” meant and assumed it referred to digital stimulation.

Later, during cross examination, Lavoie lit into that assertion, pointing out that on the tape McAllister says he’s never done fisting with anyone else. Earlier he testified that he’d become adept at digital stimulation because of longstanding erectile dysfunction.

“Now English is your first language, correct?” Lavoie asked McAllister, casting doubt on his professed confusion about the sexual term.

Responding to questions from Katims, McAllister flatly denied having exchanged sex for rent at any point, or arranging for a friend to pay for sex with her. Instead, McAllister testified that he and his wife let the woman live in the trailer out of kindness because they were aware it would help her get custody of her kids.

McAllister said he paid $70 toward her utility bill, because the power company was at the trailer threatening to shut off her electricity. Jurors apparently did not buy that explanation.

Morgan True

Morgan True is VTDigger's Burlington bureau chief covering the city and Chittenden County. A Seattle native, he graduated from Boston University with a Bachelor of Science in Journalism before working for several publications in Massachusetts. Read more

Email: mtrue@vtdigger.org

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  • robert bristow-johnson

    wow. normally when the defense’s only witness is the defendant himself, that’s usually a Hail Mary.

    the article mentions words in the closing statements and tells us the defendant testified on his own behalf and says that the defendant contradicted the accuser’s testimony “at every turn” but says so little about the cross-examination. seems like the prosecution was not prepared for the defendant testifying and was a bit gentle on cross. you would think they would rake him over the coals on cross.

    i dunno of another criminal trial i had read about where, evidently based solely on the the defendant’s denial in testimony, the defendant was acquitted.

    • jan van eck

      I take the article as indicating that the defendant’s son first testified for the defense. That said, a defendant in a criminal case is usually nuts to testify; not something I would ever do. It is up to the State to totally prove its case, not up to the defendant to prove his innocence. Unfortunately, the subtlety of that is lost on most juries.

      Getting past that, it starts to look like the jury was passing a moral judgment, not a legal one; the jury concludes that his conduct was morally reprehensible, he should not have engaged in sex with the woman under any circumstance, including if she lived in town, and thus determined that they had to find him guilty “of something.” But this pimping claim makes no sense; the defendant is reasonably wealthy (or was until his legal bills started rolling in, now he is broke), so why would a man in that position go share his private exclusive sex access with some other man for seventy bucks. Would you do that? Of course not. It is not plausible.

      I don’t see this claim surviving Appeal. While the jury is the determiner of the facts, it cannot make it up as it goes along. The opaque “other man” never shows up, the State assuredly knows who he is and could offer immunity in exchange for testimony, but does not. Has the State proven its case? I don’t see it. Every other claim gets tossed, and you are left with this suggestion that $70 is of such overwhelming importance that the defendant is prepared to “share” to obtain that, on one occasion only. That is just not plausible.

    • Peter Chick

      Seems to me both Robert and everyone in Montpelier had this man convicted months ago.

  • Steve_Finner

    The one guilty verdict on the charge of “misdemeanor prostitution” ( in effect, aiding and abetting) strikes me as something that might have happened as part of a plea deal and I have to wonder if the jury was wanting to throw the prosecution a bone. If I had been on the jury, I would have been hard pressed to find him guilty on that charge absent testimony from the person who is alleged to have aided in the act.

  • steveames

    What a sordid tale. So much pain. So much inequity.

  • Curtis Sinclair

    He still lost the trial by media. No one wins that.

  • Curtis Sinclair

    Anonymity for defendants in rape cases has been proposed in the UK but not the US for some reason. I don’t know why. It’s a big issue with men’s right groups.

    • Neil Johnson

      The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if they witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against his brother, then do to him as he intended to do to his brother. You must purge the evil from among you. 19:18

      Maybe we should be adopting this into our legal system? It’s pretty sound advice. Might make for some good tort reform.

  • Katharine Hikel MD

    A jury of seven men and five women??? The manarchy continues its cultural trumpery of women.

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