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Day 2: ‘Close friend’ of alleged victim of sexual assault testifies

[SN file photo]
Says victim’s personality has changed since incident

A “very close friend” of an alleged victim of a sexual assault, told a High Court jury how the victim has become withdrawn and keeps to herself and is scared, since the incident early this year, when both teenagers were seniors at a local high school.

The close friend was the government’s last witness yesterday in the case against local businessman, Mukesh ‘Bob’ Chand — not Mukesh as was the last name previously used by Samoa News.

Fifty-three year old Chand is charged with one count each of sodomy, deviate sexual assault, and first-degree sexual abuse. According to the court documents, the alleged victim — who was 17 years old at the time of the alleged incident — is friends with Chand’s teenage daughter and the alleged sexual assault occurred late evening of Apr. 7 while the victim was at Chand’s home working with the defendant’s daughter on putting together food plates for a fundraiser.

When the trial continued yesterday morning the government called one of the victim’s friends, who said that she and the victim were close friends during their senior year in high school at the time of the incident.

She said the pair are “very close friends” and are just “like sisters” and called the victim’s father, “uncle”.

Prior to the alleged sexual assault, the witness explained that the victim was “very optimistic” with a “bubbly personality” and “she can’t lie.”

“She can’t keep a secret, she is blunt and honest,” the friend testified about the victim.

Assistant Attorney General, Woodrow Pengelly, then walked the witness through the events on the afternoon of Apr. 7, from a basketball game at Tafuna High School Gymnasium, to when the pair and another teenage friend went to the victim’s home and into the victim’s bedroom, where the victim typed something on a computer then asked the two friends to read it.

The victim told her friends that “she has something to tell us,” the witness said.

Asked by Pengelly to describe her observation of the victim at that time, the witness said, the victim “kept to herself”, very reserved and that is not how she (the victim) usually is. She also observed that the victim was breathing heavy at times while typing.

Thereafter, the victim went to the “corner of her room” hugging her legs and rocking-back-and-forth and she was “very vulnerable” and “that’s not the [victim’s name] that I know. And that hurt me,” the witness said in an emotional voice.

The victim “was crying pulling on her sweater. Her crying had so much pain,” said the witness, who added that the victim cried for about 5 minutes.

What could not be said in court — because it was considered “hearsay” by the witness — was what was on the computer and read by the witness and the other friend.

However, the witness did say that after reading what the victim had written on the computer, the victim “stopped crying. I advised her to tell her parents, her family. She felt ashamed. She didn’t want to tell her dad — most especially.”

Additionally, the victim “didn’t feel safe sleeping alone” and therefore the victim went with the witness to her home. Asked if anything, the victim brought with her, the witness replied, a “ pocket knife” and she “never brought a knife before when she slept over at my house.”

On the weekend — specially Saturday, Apr. 8 — following the allegedly assault, there was an event at a local place for an 18th birthday celebration, which was semi-fancy event, with the teenagers attending wearing long or short dresses.

However, the witness said the victim wore “jeans and a hoodie” and this is not the type of dress the victim would wear on a special occasion. The victim was usually “bold” and “daring” in the way she dressed, according to the witness, who added that at the birthday celebration, the victim kept to herself, “stayed away from other people” and this was unlike her — the victim.

“Have you noticed any change [in the victim’s] personality” following the incident? Pengelly asked, to which the witness said “yes”, adding that the victim is “more aware of her surroundings. She is scared. She keeps to herself.”

For example, the witness said the victim was part of the wrestling team and before the incident, the victim wrestled with the boys on the team, without any problems. But after the incident, the victim would “flinch” when touched by any of the male wrestlers.

“She didn’t want to be touched. She don’t want to show skin,” the witness said.

During cross examination, defense attorney Richard Desaulles went after the witness’s memory, starting with the afternoon of Apr. 7 when the witness was at the basketball game. During questioning by the government, the witness said that she couldn’t remember who won the game that day.

So Desaulles started with why she couldn’t remember who won the game, and asked if she has a medical condition in which she couldn’t remember. (In yesterday’s story from day one of the trial, Samoa News incorrectly identified Joshua Rovelli, as the defense attorney asking questions. Instead, it was Desaulles, the managing attorney with RDA Law Firm American Samoa. Rovelli, is part of the defense trial team in court.)

“It’s not a medical condition,” but it’ a “memory condition” that she has had for some time, according to the witness.

“I like to say that I have selective memory,” when it comes to positive things, she said, adding that, “it’s information, like facts, that I don’t forget. Something like that.”

She explained that she doesn’t remember little things, such as putting detergent in the washer, and in her bedroom she has notes reminding her of the little things to do.

“I have a photographic memory,” the witness claimed, “such as faces... pictures.”

Desaulles’ next line of questioning focused on the victim’s “crying” — such as what would cause her to cry and how long would she cry — before and after the incident. In between the specific defense questions on crying, side-bar at the bench was called. Like the first day of trial, there were several side-bars at the bench yesterday.

Responding to defense questions, the witness said that since the incident the victim had been crying more, especially when there are things that “trigger her memory of the incident.”

“Before this incident had [the victim] demonstrated that she has a temper?” the defense asked,and the witness gave a firm “no”.

“Is [the victim] short-tempered?” the defense asked and again there was another firm “no” from the witness, who elaborated that the victim’s “temper rises” when something happens that “triggers memory of the incident.”

The witness remained firm, as more questions were asked. “As a friend, tell me, how did [the victim] treat you before the incident? How did [the victim] treat you after the incident,” Desaulles asked.

The witness firmly replied, “The incident brought us closer together” and the witness repeated this twice, when asked later in the trial.

The defense asked as to why the victim didn’t want to tell her dad, about the incident. “She is the only daughter and [dad] will do anything to protect her.  The dad is very strict,” the witness said, adding that the victim is afraid of what the dad “will do to the man” — referring to the defendant.

Earlier in her testimony, the witness told the jury that certain things occurred that made the victim’s not want to tell her father about the incident. The defense asked to explain, what “ those are” but a side-bar on the bench was called.

When trial resumed, the defense moved on to another question, following up on the witness testimony that after the incident, the victim would cry if anything happened that triggers memory of the incident. Desaulles asked the witness to give examples.

The witness explained that a girl had posted on Twitter a message telling the victim to “stop acting like the victim... oh... you are the victim.”

Pengelly quickly objected and another side-bar was called at the bench. When the trial resumed, there were no more questions from the defense and the government rested its case with no more witnesses.

The witness was reminded by Acting Associate Judge Elvis P. Patea not to discuss her testimony with anyone except the attorneys involved. 

The defense’s first witness, yesterday was the Chands’ housekeeper and Samoa News will report on it tomorrow along with the rest of her testimony from today when the trial continues.

Yesterday’s trial was half day because of many other matters on the court’s calendar for the rest of the afternoon.

Before the jury was dismissed for the day, Patea again reminded them not to discuss the case with anyone, even with each other until they get the case for review.

The jury was also informed not to discuss the case on “social media” and not to read or listen to any news of the trial distributed by news outlets — and this includes online news distribution. The jury was told not to conduct their own research about the case.

“Continue to keep an open mind” throughout the trial, said Patea, who was assisted on the bench by Associate Judges Satele and Muasau.