JEFFERSON — The alleged victim in the trial of a 44-year-old Jefferson man accused of sexual assault was on the stand for most of Monday afternoon in Jefferson County Circuit Court.
As she testified in the courtroom of Judge Bennett Brantmeier, long pauses as the woman searched for the right word filled the courtroom with tension. Often, when she did find the right words, she stumbled over them, her voice trembling as she tried to explain the graphic details of the alleged assault.
At other times, the woman would find a head of steam and her words spilled forward. However, especially during cross-examination by defense attorney Donna Kuchler, she seemed to be caught up by details such as the timeline of events.
The woman, now 23, testified for nearly two hours on Monday with the contents spanning from descriptions of the sexual encounter between her and Miguel Rodriguez to what went through her mind and why she reacted to the incident the way she did.
Through it all, Rodriguez watched from the defendant’s table, often with a single leg bouncing as he listened.
Rodriguez has been charged with third-degree sexual assault stemming from a June 2017 incident in which the woman says the two had a sexual encounter that started consensual, but didn’t end that way.
If convicted, Rodriguez faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
During direct examination by Assistant District Attorney Brookellen Teuber, the woman, who was 20 at the time of the incident, said she went to Rodriguez’ home often because her best friend was his roommate.
It was during these visits, the woman testified, that she got to know Rodriguez. And, according to her, he made his feelings about her very clear.
“He would always tell me that I was pretty; he would always ask me “why don’t you have a boyfriend? You deserve to be with someone,’” the woman said. “He would overload me with compliments. I was never interested, but I would say thank you not to be rude.”
A few months after the pair first started becoming better acquainted, the woman said, she was starting to be curious about sexual activities. She said that at this point, she’d had had no sexual experience.
The woman said she was sitting with Rodriguez in the kitchen of his home having coffee and talking when she mentioned she’d never had her breasts massaged and that she was interested in seeing what that was like.
Rodriguez said he could show her what it was like and they proceeded to his bedroom, where she took off her shirt and bra, according to the woman.
About five minutes later, according to the woman, the massage ended, she put her clothes back on and they both left the room.
“I had never done anything sexually before,” the woman said about the massage. “I was young and very inexperienced. I guess my young, curious mind got ahold of me and I saw that while he’s interested in me anyways, let me take that opportunity to have that experience that I haven’t had yet.”
But, despite this one completely consensual encounter, the woman said, she had made it clear they wouldn’t do anything further.
“I was always awkward,” the woman said. “He knew I wasn’t interested in him because I’d make it clear very often.”
However, a few months later, the woman was at the house again hanging out with her friend and some of the other residents.
She testified that she and her friend had just gotten back from Walmart where she’d bought a set of fake nails. Before she could apply them, though, she needed to clip her actual fingernails, so she asked if anyone had a nail clipper.
The woman said Rodriguez offered his and went into the bedroom to fetch them. After he took a while, according to the woman, she followed him into his room to see what was taking so long.
When she got there, she said she saw him rifling through a dresser drawer, so she sat on the bed.
When she sat on the bed, he shut and locked the door, sat down next to her and started “flirting,” she told the court.
“I was concerned why he got up to lock the door,” the woman said. “I was very reserved and confused. I had a lot of thoughts going on in my head, but I didn’t say anything verbally to him.”
A little while after that, she said, he asked if he could kiss her. According to her, she said yes because she thought it would make him stop.
“The reason why I allowed him to do that, even though I was not interested in him, I thought that if I let him do something, that he would be fine and I would leave,” she testified.
After the kiss, though, the incident escalated, the woman said. At first, it went from touching her breasts to the rest of her body and then started moving to perform oral sex on her.
Eventually, she said, he exposed his genitals and asked a number of times if he could start having sex with her.
The woman said that at this point, she was giving verbal and non-verbal signs that she didn’t want to go any further.
“I told him, ‘let’s not do this,’” the woman said.
But, according to the woman, even though she explicitly said no more than once, in addition to phrases that also would have meant no, he continued to try to penetrate her.
While Kuchler tried to ask during cross-examination why the woman didn’t yell for help or just leave the room, she said that in those few moments in Rodriguez’ bedroom, she panicked.
“There’s two modes you can go into: fight or flight,” the woman said. “I froze.”
At some point though, Rodriguez did stop and the two left the room, the woman said.
Outside the room, Rodriguez asked the woman if she wanted to go somewhere else so “they could finish,” she said.
But instead, she went to another friend’s apartment, where she shared what had happened. The next day, that friend and another helped her decide to go to the hospital and report the assault to the police.
Kuchler attempted to portray these two friends as outsiders who were only encouraging the woman to report the crime because they thought it was “icky” for a 20-year-old to have a relationship with a 41-year-old.
“The friends thought it was pretty icky,” Kuchler said in her opening statement. “It was buyer’s remorse and nothing more than that.”
Kuchler argued that the incident was a completely consensual encounter that the woman regretted afterward.
“There’s always two sides to a story,” Kuchler said.
But, Teuber argued in her opening statement that the woman revoked consent and Rodriguez didn’t listen, making anything that happened after the consent was revoked an assault.
“Through a portion of this, she was a consenting participant,” Teuber said. “But there came a point when her consent was revoked, she said no, and the defendant disregarded her wishes and moved forward anyway.”
While the two attorneys’ opening statements and the woman’s testimony took up the entire afternoon of the trial’s first day, the morning was spent fully on jury selection.
The court initially had called a panel of 40 jurors in to court Monday, but after a blustery snowstorm that morning, only 32 showed up.
Already at a disadvantage, the number of jurors was cut even further when 12 potential jurors were excused for cause — meaning Brantmeier found reasons they couldn’t be impartial.
One juror knew the defendant’s daughters, others previously had been impacted by sexual assault and others had heard about the case in the news media.
With the pool down to just 20 jurors at this point, there weren’t enough left for each counsel to get his or her five allotted preemptory strikes against jurors.
Because of this, a large part of the morning was spent working out the unexpected logistics.
A number of options were considered, including checking whether anybody impaneled on a November jury worked for Jefferson County and already was in the building.
Wisconsin Statute 756.07 — which would have allowed the court bailiff to go outside and pull people in to jury duty off the street — also was brought up.
In an effort to avoid sending the bailiff out into the snowstorm, Brantmeier decided to nix the planned 13th juror who was to serve as an alternate if anything came up during the trial.
This meant each lawyer only had four premptory challenges each and there would be enough jurors to reach a final total of 12.
After all of that, the jury was finally picked with eight women and four men sitting in Rodriguez’ trial.
The trial was to resume Tuesday at 8:30 a.m.