By BEA LEWIS, for THE LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — The defense attorney representing a Belmont businessman on trial for starting a sexual relationship with a teenaged girl nearly 20 years ago spent much of Wednesday posing questions to the state's witnesses in an effort to challenge their creditability.
Steven Price, 66, is charged with four counts of rape, alleging that he repeatedly engaged in sex with a now 34-year-old woman when she was between the ages of 13 and 17.
The allegations came to light after the alleged victim was charged with stealing jewelry valued at $13,700 from a safe in the bedroom of the defendant's home. On the day she was to plead guilty to the felony theft, the woman disclosed the alleged abuse to her attorney, sparking a police investigation.
She was given immunity for the criminal charges so that she could testify against Price. The crux of the defense's case is that the accuser made up the allegations to avoid going to jail.
Sean Sullivan, a school resource officer for the Alton Police Department, testified on Wednesday that he was working for Belmont Police in 1999 when he was dispatched to J&L Auto on Route 140.
After reviewing his written report, Sullivan recalled speaking with the property owner, Leon Cram, and another man called J.J. Cram told the officer that the only reason that he was speaking to him was because he was intoxicated and that Sullivan needed to pry the information out of him.
Sullivan said during the conversation a report was made concerning a young lady being seen on top of Mr. Price, while both were fully clothed. The officer's testimony corroborated the earlier testimony of both the victim and John Jenot.
The state rested its case late Wednesday afternoon and the judge told the jury that the lawyers for both sides believe testimony will conclude Thursday morning, following by closing arguments. After receiving instructions from the judge, the jury will then begin deliberating its verdicts.
Thomas Black, who briefly worked for Price, spent a day and a half on the stand and was unhappy about being there. While being questioned, Black repeatedly said that he was only repeating what he'd been told by others, including the alleged victim. When he was called to meet with Prosecutor Alysia Cassotis, the lead detective and the county's victim witness advocate, he testified that he told them his information was hearsay.
In an effort to prove that, Black said, he asked Detective Eliza Gustafson to step out of the room and then told the prosecutor and Barbara Belmont of rumors he'd heard about Belmont police.
As a result of those disclosures, the prosecutor wrote a memo to Belmont police and the Attorney General's Office ultimately conducted an investigation, but found no wrongdoing.
Black testified within days of disclosing the rumors he received a call from an investigator with the AG's Office and called Belmont to tell her that he wasn't going to testify.
"All I know is hearsay," Black told the jury, adding he'd been told that if he didn't accept a subpoena, he'd be jailed.
When pressed about what he'd said in a taped interview, including statements that he'd witnessed the defendant and the alleged victim engaging in a sex act, he maintained he'd misunderstood the question.
Black told the jury that Price had once bragged that he could have sex with the alleged victim "anytime I want," and that a sexual relationship between the two had been "going on a long time." But Black was unable to pinpoint a time frame when he claimed Price made the boast.
He testified that he had urged the woman to go to police and report that she was underage when she began having sex with Price, before she was arrested for stealing from the defendant.
"I think she wanted to go to the police but felt that the only person that was ever there for her would get in trouble," he said.
On Wednesday, Belmont Detective Gustafson was subjected to a pointed cross examination by the defense.
"Once again, we lose the chance to corroborate or disprove (the alleged victim's) story, but nobody followed up, agreed?" questioned defense attorney Jim Moir.
Reading from a phonebook-sized transcript of one of two interviews the alleged victim gave to police, Moir recounted numerous times where the woman told investigators that multiple people had witnessed or had
personal knowledge that she and Price had sex when she was underage.
Under questioning by Moir, the detective detailed that after the alleged victim recounted that her first sexual encounter with Price happened in his red Dodge Ram pickup, a search of motor vehicle records was done. Price only ever had a white pickup truck registered in his name.
During her investigation, Gustafson went to a cemetery off South Road in Belmont, where the alleged victim said she and Price had their first sexual encounter in his truck in 1997. Moir asked the detective to show the jury photos of the cemetery she had taken and describe what they showed.
He focused the jury on how narrow and long the access road was and a portion of a transcript in which the alleged victim said Price had backed the truck into the cemetery.
On Tuesday, Belmont Detective Raechel Moulton testified that when she questioned the alleged victim about the theft from Price's safe, the woman never said that she had permission to take the jewelry.
On Wednesday, before the jury was brought into the courtroom, the prosecutor successfully argued for the chance to question Moulton again. The judge agreed to allow the state to recall Moulton, who testified that when she first questioned the woman, she asked if the detective would contact Price, explaining that if she did, that in effect it would settle the case.
After reviewing her report of the interaction, the detective told the jury that the alleged victim told her that Price had called earlier that same evening and said if she returned all the stolen items he'd drop the criminal charge.
The jury of nine men and five women have heard about five full days of testimony since the trial started on Oct. 17. Two of the jurors will be randomly selected to serve as alternates after closing arguments are heard and will not participate in the deliberations, unless another member of jury is unable to continue.