ST. ALBANS — A judge has dismissed sexual assault charges against a sitting state senator.
Thursday morning, Judge Robert Mello dismissed two felony charges of sexual assault against Sen. Norm McAllister, R-Franklin, who was facing the possibility of life in prison if convicted on either charge.
Mello dismissed the charges at the request of Franklin County Deputy State’s Attorney Diane Wheeler, who sought dismissal on the basis of what she called “some information that came to light last evening.”
In this case, “last evening” followed the first day of McAllister’s trial Wednesday, which included testimony from one witness, the now-21-year-old woman who testified McAllister sexually assaulted her numerous times, beginning when she was 16 years old.
The accuser testified for more than four hours Wednesday — and was expected to return to the witness stand Thursday — as she recounted alleged assaults that took place on or near McAllister’s farm in Franklin as well as a house in Montpelier he shared with fellow lawmakers during the legislative session.
Wheeler declined to elaborate on what specific information led to her motion to dismiss the charges, but McAllister’s attorney, Brooks McArthur, offered his perspective.
“The dismissal occurred today as a result of what the complaining witness testified about yesterday, and the state reviewed that testimony and did the right thing by dismissing the case today,” said McArthur.
Under cross examination in court Wednesday, McAllister’s attorneys pointed out inconsistencies between the accuser’s testimony and previous accounts she offered when providing sworn depositions weeks before.
The inconsistencies included where and when the first alleged assault took place.
“It was clear that this complaining witness had significant credibility issues and when the state listened to her testimony yesterday, reviewed that testimony overnight, they realized that they were going to have a very difficult time going forward,” McArthur said.
McArthur described Wheeler’s motion to dismiss the charges as “a very courageous thing to do. She did the right thing.”
McArthur said that, early on, police should have done more to challenge the accuser regarding inconsistencies in her accounts of events.
“I never thought it should have gotten this far,” he said.
Kris Lukens, director of Voices Against Violence — the local victim’s advocate office — said it is common for victims of trauma to confuse the details of what happened to them.
“We know from research that trauma plays a huge part and it actually physically changes the brain,” Lukens said. “One of the things that happens with someone who has been traumatized is that they don’t necessarily think in a linear fashion. Things are all over the place, and that can be construed as being inconsistent.”
“Juries and the public need to know this is a significant factor in these cases,” she continued. “It doesn’t mean the victim is lying.”
Lukens also addressed credibility questions raised by McAllister’s defense team, which noted the accuser volunteered for the senator’s re-election campaign and served as his assistant in Montpelier, all after the time period she said McAllister sexually assaulted her.
“We’re looking at a power differential,” she said. “Here’s a state senator. She’s a young girl who’s being given the opportunity of a lifetime to work at the State House, to do really important work.”
Lukens said the defense team’s treatment of the accuser could have a chilling effect on other victims of violence.
“That’s why we have not many sexual assaults going to trial like this,” she said. “Not many victims report because of what happens in the courtroom. You saw in the courtroom how she was painted to be not telling the truth.”
McAllister still faces four sexual assault charges — one felony and three misdemeanors — stemming from allegations from a different accuser. McArthur said he and the prosecutor will return to court next month for a status conference, with a possible trial coming in the fall.
It is unclear how the dismissal of charges Thursday or the possibility of a trial occurring before Franklin County residents go to the polls in November will affect McAllister’s pursuit of a third term in the state senate. McAllister declined to comment Thursday and McArthur declined to discuss if his client will begin campaigning.
He did, however, address the actions of McAllister’s fellow senators, who voted to suspend him in January.
“I wish the folks in Montpelier would have waited until all of the facts had come to light,” McArthur said.