Reference to girl's self mutilation throws twist into Grant trial

LACONIA — The step-father of a 17-year-old girl who alleges she was digitally raped by a local band leader in 2006 testified yesterday that he saw the man put a portion of his hand down the back of the girl's pants.

The step-father, an environmental scientist from California, said the entire incident lasted about five seconds and at the time he thought he saw Eric Grant give the girl a "wedgie".

"It didn't appear he was sticking it (his hand) down very far because I assumed he was giving her a wedgie," he said under cross-examination by Grant's attorney Emily McLaughlin.

"I thought it was innocent joking around," he said under intense scrutiny from McLaughlin who pressed him hard about what he actually saw as opposed to what he thought he saw.

Grant has been accused of aggravated felonious sexual assault, or rape, by his former niece by marriage when the girl was 10-years-old. At the time, Grant was married to the girl's mother's sister. Grant and the mother have since divorced. The girl and her family were visiting Grant's Gilford home for a New Year's Eve party when the alleged assault happened.

The alleged victim made her allegations to her therapist in April 2011, triggering a criminal investigation by both California and the Belknap County Sheriffs Department. Grant has maintained his innocence since the day he was accused.

The girl's step-father is the third prosecution witness in as many days during a trial that has been getting increasing more tense — especially between opposing counsel. In addition, yesterday, nearly 15 Grant supporters were in the Belknap County Superior Courtroom — a few more than where there Tuesday for the first day of trial.

In a last-minute motions hearing yesterday afternoon, held outside the earshot of the jury, Asst. Belknap County Prosecutor Carley Ahern and McLaughlin battled over whether or not evidence of self-mutilating on the part of the girl could be presented to the jury. During her testimony on Tuesday, the alleged victim said, in a small hushed voice, that she began cutting herself some years after the incident in Gilford.

McLaughlin immediately objected and her, Ahern and Judge James O'Neill met in a "side-bar" or at the bench which is out of earshot of the jury. Ahern didn't pursue the self-mutilation testimony and moved to another topic.

On Wednesday, the girl's mother testified that she had sent her daughter to see a therapist in 2011 for marijuana use after telling the girl's psychiatrist about it. She said the psychiatrist recommended a therapist.

Yesterday, when McLaughlin tried to enter two photographs into evidence that, on two separate occasions since the alleged rape purported to show Grant and his family spending happy times with the girl and her family during two separate vacations (no one except the attorneys have seen the photographs), Ahern objected.

During yesterday's motion hearing, O'Neill questioned Ahern about why she didn't pursue her inquiry about self-mutilation after he overruled or denied McLaughlin's objection.

"My recollection is that you were not barred (from pursuing it further)," he said.

He also asked Ahern what connection there is between the photo and the self-mutilation.

Ahern said she thought that when the judge asked the girl if she was through with her statement, he meant that she could no longer pursue that line of questioning.

She argued further the photos were misleading because they don't show the totality of the mental torment girl was experiencing since her alleged rape in 2006 and they represent two moments in time and nothing more. The photos are being used to jog the memories of the three prosecution witnesses but, at this point, nothing more.

McLaughlin said the photos are evidence that there was no animosity between her client and the girl and are not overly prejudicial. If admitted into evidence, the jury can see them.

McLaughlin also argued that evidence of self-mutilation and a visit to a psychiatrist were never given to her during the discovery process despite her request for all medical transcripts, notes, and other documents related to the alleged assault.

She said Ahern shouldn't be allowed to use the self-mutilation or the psychiatrist because when she heard about it during direct examination, it was the first she heard of it.

McLaughin said the state is obligated to the court and to her client to continue to investigate a case and to disclose any evidence it uncovers. She described the new evidence as "undiscovered, non-disclosed and not supported by any documentation."

About the only consistency so far in the three days of testimony is that the girl, her mother, and her step-father all testified that since the alleged assault — the girl has tried to keep her distance from Grant. All three remember being at the party in Gilford, however only the step-father recalls seeing Grant touch the alleged victim. All three remember a local couple stopping by for a brief visit.

All three remember a fight between Grant and his then wife that caused Grant to leave the home. McLaughlin said it was the fight that traumatized the girl while Ahern said it was the rape.

In her testimony Tuesday and Wednesday morning, the girl testified the assault lasted "two minutes".  Her step-father, who said he was not drinking alcohol that night, testified that had he seen an obvious sexual assault he would have called the police.

The alleged victim also testified that she was bleeding after the alleged assault and that she was wearing a pair of pink pajamas. Neither the mother or the step-mother remembered what the girl was wearing that night but a video introduced into evidence shows the girl wearing jeans and a pink jacket during some fireworks at some point in the evening.

Neither mother nor step-father remembered seeing any bloody pajama bottoms or underwear. The mother testified Wednesday she did the family laundry at the time.

O'Neill has said he would review the motions and would issue his ruling about the photograph and the self-mutilation by noon Monday. Both lawyer are being given an opportunity to appear late Monday afternoon to verbally re-address his ruling.