A 22-year-old suburban Erie County woman had just gotten into the shower after returning home from her afternoon shift as a health care worker late on a December night in 2011.
“I was taking my shower, and then the man opened the shower curtain on me,” the woman told 12 jurors and two alternates Monday morning in Erie County Court. “I screamed, I fell in the shower on the ground, and then he punched me in the face.”
That’s how the woman, now 24, began her detailed 50-minute account of how she was raped, during the predatory sexual assault trial of Sam Muscarella, 26, of Alden.
The victim’s graphic, detailed account held the jury and courtroom observers spellbound.
Fighting back tears but retaining her composure during questioning from Erie County Assistant District Attorney Lynette M. Reda, the victim told the story of the attack that started late on the night of Dec. 14, 2011, in her small apartment.
“I kept fighting, trying to get him away from me, swinging my arms and legs at him, and he kept holding me down,” the victim told the courtroom of Erie County Court Judge Kenneth F. Case. “I was screaming and begging him to stop.”
During the attack, the woman said her assailant punched her in the face, grabbed her by the hair, led her into her bedroom, threw her on the floor, stomped on her head with his shoe-less foot and put part of a towel in her mouth.
“I asked him why, and I lied to him, telling him I was pregnant, hoping he would stop,” she testified.
But the attack continued. She said she’s not sure how she wound up on her bed.
At one point, her attacker took off his belt and put it around her neck, though she attempted to put her hands between the belt and her neck.
“He told me to let go ... and he pulled it harder,” she said.
After the sexual attack, the woman said she curled up on the floor, between her bed and dresser, and she begged her attacker to leave. She later sat on her closet floor, crying, before putting on her fiancé’s hooded sweatshirt and her own pants.
At one point, after her assailant apparently had fled, she attempted to text her fiancé, her father and a friend, asking them to call 911. But she was afraid to talk on the phone, scared that her attacker, a former next-door neighbor, might have been listening on the phone or watching her.
She also went into the kitchen, grabbed a knife and tried to lock her front door. She later heard a knocking sound and went to the door.
“It was the police,” she testified. “I had the knife in my hand. They told me to put down the knife. I was crying, and I told them I was raped.”
The case against Muscarella has had a long journey through the court system, with the first trial ending in a mistrial in late March, after the jury informed Case that it was deadlocked.
The defense contends that this was consensual sex. In his opening statement, defense attorney Joseph A. Agro called it a “he-said, she-said” case.
“She says she was punched, grabbed by the hair, stomped on and choked with a belt,” Agro said during a break in the trial Monday. “And yet there was no injury. The sexual-assault nurse, three or four hours afterward, saw no injury whatsoever.”
The victim, though, testified that she had multiple bruises, abrasions and scrapes on her back, elbow and neck, along with a puffy eye. Reda, working with Assistant District Attorney Peter J. Marche, introduced photos that apparently showed some injuries.
During cross-examination by Agro that stretched into Monday afternoon, the victim said she didn’t tell a nurse-practitioner every detail of the attack.
“I was confused. I was distraught. I was crying. I was upset,” she said.
The victim, who held her composure in direct testimony, got testy at several points during the cross-examination by Agro, at one point openly sobbing, with both hands covering her face.
About 40 minutes into the cross-examination, the victim broke down, and Case had to call for a brief recess.