Belmont businessman charged with sexual assault of teenager decades ago
By GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — The attorney for Belmont businessman Steve Price, who is accused of sexually assaulting a girl nearly two decades ago, spent most of day two of Price's trial trying to paint his accuser as a liar by challenging inconsistencies in her testimonies.
For nearly three hours, attorney James Moir picked away at the now 34-year-old woman, who was granted immunity from a charge of stealing from Price so she could testify he repeatedly had sexual relations with her when she was between the ages of 13 and 17.
When facing a jail sentence for stealing $30,000 in jewelry and coins from Price in 2014, the alleged victim made her accusations against him the day she was to plead guilty. Her lawyer told the Belknap County Attorney about the allegations, which eventually led to the state dropping charges for theft against her in exchange for her testimony against Price about the rape charges. Price faces four separate charges of pattern aggravated felonious sexual assault with the pattern meaning that the assault allegedly took place repeated over a four-year period of time.
Most specifically, Moir spent day two of his cross examination challenging the differences between statements she made to police and to a forensic sexual assault interviewer in October of 2014, when she initially made the accusations, to statements she made during pre-trial preparations in August of 2016.
The alleged victim fended off most of his pointed questions by saying she was on drugs in 2014 and didn't remember many things she said to Belmont Detective Eliza Gustafson who headed the investigation into the alleged sexual assaults.
There were four interviews Moir referred to in his cross-examination, two in October 2014 and two in August 2016, and much of his focus was on the people she said either knew, saw or suspected that she and Price had a sexual relationship when she was a child.
She testified there were at least two women who had sex with her while Price watched but backed off her assertions when he started pressing her about what they would say when questioned under oath. She first said there was one woman who participated in sex with both of them, but under cross-examination changed her story to say that she walked in on Price while he was have sex with the other woman. She also said that she only kissed the other girl in front of Price because, at the time, both she and the girl were "bi-curious."
Moir also wanted to know why she didn't tell Gustafson in 2014 about the voyeurism or two people identified as J.J. and Ryan, whom she now claims saw her in a compromising situation with Price.
Much of the alleged victim's story about witnesses centers around J.J., because she said under direct examination that he may have caught a glimpse of her and Price having sex in a work trailer and later informed the police, who investigated.
When questioned in the late 1990s by Belmont Police Officer Steven Crockett about Price, she said she lied to him at the time because she was "in love with Mr. Price" and didn't want to get him in any trouble. Crockett is expected to testify as a prosecution witness today.
Moir wanted her to explain why she never told Gustafson about this in her October 2014 interview and why she said during her 2016 trial preparation that it was her brother Jeff who actually saw them, which reduced her to tears but didn't elicit a real answer.
Her response to all of Moir's inquiries about who knew and who she identified as knowing was that Belmont is a "small town" and rumors about her and Price were rampant at the time because people thought it was unusual for a young teenaged girl to be hanging around with a grown man.
As part of her testimony Monday and under direct questioning from the prosecutor, she said that she would be at Lakes Region Fiberglass daily, largely because she was babysitting for Price's granddaughter and that that was when many of the sexual encounters between the two occurred.
Moir asked her if she recalled Jean Price telling her to never take the baby into the shop because of possible exposure to chemicals and fiberglass and she said she recalled the conversation, agreeing that it was harmful to expose the child to such substances.
But when he asked her if she remembered that on her second day of her babysitting job, Jean Price found her with the baby in the shop and fired her, she said she knew that she babysat for the child more than twice, but didn't directly answer the question.
As to the theft of jewelry, the victim has said that she drove to Price's house while she was living in Bristol to get money from him, as she said she had done many times in the past. She said he told her he couldn't help her but left the safe open and told her to "do what (she) had to do. When the prosecutor asked her if she had a valid license when she made the trip, she said she did and that she owned a Toyota.
Moir challenged her statements about having a valid driver's license during that time. Under a second direct examination by the prosecution, she said she understood what immunity meant and that she couldn't be prosecuted for anything she said, she responded by saying her driver's license may have been suspended at the time but that she often had friends drive her places. She said she couldn't remember how she got to Price's house the day she took the jewelry from the safe.
The alleged victim also said that she lied in 2014 to a now-retired Franklin police officer who now runs a pawn shop in Bristol by telling him the jewelry was given to her by a relative when he bought some of it. She said she knew he was a police officer.
She also said that she remembered returning there because she couldn't cash the check he gave her because she didn't have an ID when she went to the bank. The shop owner ripped up the first check and wrote a second one to her male roommate who did have an ID. She testified she didn't remember why she didn't have her license or ID on her when she was at the bank.
Moir's further attempts to paint the woman as a liar included asking her if it was true that she reached out to a friend while she was on probation for some clean urine for a test. She admitted that was true.
The trial resumes this morning in the Belknap County Superior Court with more witnesses from the prosecution.
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