Expert witness testifies at UM rape trial

2013-02-14T10:35:00Z 2013-03-19T20:15:52Z Expert witness testifies at UM rape trialBy GWEN FLORIO Missoulian The Billings Gazette
February 14, 2013 10:35 am  • 

MISSOULA — People who have been raped, especially by acquaintances, behave in all sorts of ways that might not seem to make sense, an expert witness testified Thursday in the rape trial of former University of Montana quarterback Jordan Johnson.

They may blame themselves, said David Lisak of Massachusetts, a clinical psychologist, forensic consultant and national expert in acquaintance rape.

They may act like nothing’s wrong, or seem to change their stories as they remember different details at different times, he said.

“There’s an enormous variability in how victims react,” he said.

Lisak was called as an educational witness by the prosecution after a pretrial motion by the defense to exclude his testimony failed.

Under cross-examination by defense attorney Kirsten Pabst, Lisak testified later that people who have had consensual sex also may act differently than one might expect afterward.

Thursday was the last day on the witness stand for the woman who said Johnson raped her as the two watched a movie at her home on Feb. 4, 2012. At the end of the day, jurors also heard testimony from her roommate, who was playing video games in the living room when the alleged assault occurred.

Among the spectators in the courtroom Thursday were former UM athletic director Jim O’Day — who has been in regular attendance — as well as defensive coordinator Ty Gregorak and three football players. Gregorak said they were there to support Johnson.

The woman, who began testifying Monday afternoon, continued all day Wednesday (the trial wasn’t held Tuesday), spent most of her time on the stand Thursday in cross-examination by defense attorney David Paoli.

Paoli focused largely on some of the text messages and Facebook messages she’d sent, including one that said “the sh-t is gonna hit the fan” when her parents came to town to talk with university officials about the alleged assault.

Within days, Paoli pointed out, O’Day and football coach Robin Pflugrad were fired — on March 29, after Johnson returned to spring drills when a restraining order filed against him by the woman was dropped in favor of a civil no-contact order.

“I’m so happy!!!” the woman texted a nurse at First Step, the treatment center for sexual-assault victims where she had gone the day after the incident.

Paoli wondered Thursday what she’d meant: “You’re so happy about the firings?”

“It’s about something being done — something’s being done on campus to raise awareness. I’m not happy they lost their jobs. That’s sad,” she said.

Paoli also quizzed her about a Facebook message she’d sent a friend:

“And now I keep thinking that maybe I did want it, and that’s why I didn’t punch him or kick him or bite him. It’s all kind of ridiculous because I know I didn’t ask for it,” she wrote in the note. “The more and more this goes on, the more I feel guilty about it. The whole situation makes me think I just lied.”

Deputy Attorney General Joel Thompson brought up that message when he questioned Lisak.

Such behavior is “extremely” common, especially in acquaintance rape, Lisak responded.

“They blame themselves in almost any way imaginable” – the psychology being that, if victims figure out what they did wrong, they can be sure not to do that again, and thus avoid being attacked again, he said.

Lisak specified that he has no knowledge about the specifics of the case. However, many of Thompson’s questions applied to behavior of the woman who says Johnson raped her.

“Can’t we at least say that no rape victim in her right mind would give her (attacker) a ride home afterward?” Thompson asked him. The woman has testified that minutes after Johnson allegedly assaulted her, she took him home, saying on the stand that she just wanted him out of her house.

“I personally have encountered that,” said Lisak, who said he knew of several such cases.

Likewise, he said that a victim might not want to admit to herself that she’d actually been raped — a response to a line of questioning that went back to the text message the woman in the Johnson case sent her roommate moments after the incident, saying she thought she’d just been raped.

Such wording, Lisak said, can be a way of minimizing the trauma.

Sexual assault is so traumatic that it affects the brain, making it common for victims to remember different things about the event at different times, thus making it seem as though they’re sometimes changing their stories, he said.

Or, Pabst suggested on her cross-examination, maybe an accuser is simply lying.

Isn’t it true, she asked Lisak, that “some people inaccurately portray their role in an event?”

“They might.”

“Other people might characterize that as minimization.”

“Possibly.”

“ ... Because the horror is too much to bear.”

“Possibly.”

“Or because it wasn’t horrible.”

“Possible.”

Pabst brought a rare moment of levity into the courtroom when she leaned on the lectern and said to Lisak, “I don’t know you very well, but I want to talk to you about sex."

Neither bad sex nor awkward sex nor disappointing sex constitutes rape, Lisak agreed in response to her questions.

“If nothing bad has happened,” Pabst suggested, “what’s characterized as accepting blame could also be seen as acknowledging responsibility,” she said.

“Yes,” said Lisak.

Stephen Green, the woman’s roommate and one of her best friends, testified Thursday that he was rattled when he got a text message from her that night that began, “omg … I think I might’ve just been raped.”

“I didn’t really know what to do. I didn’t know how to react. It isn’t something I was really prepared to deal with,” Green said. “I thought about going in there (to her bedroom) and doing something, I don’t know what. But I didn’t end up doing that.”

Instead, he texted her to get out of the room and then waited on the couch until she emerged. “She looked like she had been crying or was about to cry. Her eyes were watering up. She looked really distressed,” he told Thompson.

But the woman waved him off and took Johnson home. When she returned, Green testified, she started crying so hard she could barely talk.

Paoli’s cross-examination returned repeatedly to statements Green made to defense attorneys before the trial.

“You didn’t know what to do (in response to the text) because you thought she was exaggerating,” Paoli said.

“That’s not true,” Green responded.

Paoli showed him a transcript of the statement in which Green said the woman’s text left him confused, unsure of what do, and that he thought the woman might have been exaggerating.

On his redirect, Thompson asked Green: “Did you think (she) was exaggerating when she sent you that text message?”

“No,” Green said.

But Paoli got one more crack at Green, reminding him yet again of the statement.

“You did nothing to respond to her text. You were confused, the text was unclear to you, and you thought she was exaggerating,” Paoli said, summing up the statement.

“Yes,” said Green.

Testimony resumes Friday.

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