2011-08-05 "Bethel man's sexual assault trial veers into Constitutional discourse" by JASON SIEDZIK
LITCHFIELD — John McGowan’s defense began Thursday in Litchfield Superior Court with a turn towards the forensic — and the political.
The former Danbury mayoral candidate and current Bethel public access television host, accused of sexually assaulting a former girlfriend at his home in October 2008, began presenting his defense after the prosecution rested early in the day’s proceedings. If convicted of first-degree sexual assault, McGowan could face up to 20 years in prison.
McGowan’s defense revolves around the question of consent. His accuser, addressed as Jane Doe, testified that a “tension-breaker” game of strip poker turned into increasingly violent oral sex. Doe said she tried to escape, only to be allegedly restrained and forcibly sodomized by McGowan. While McGowan does not deny that the two had sex, he said the sex was consensual.
Forensic biologist Jane Cordraro, of the state’s forensic lab in Meriden, testified about the presence of blood or semen on several pieces of evidence, including toilet paper and articles of clothing, submitted to the lab in March 2010. While Cordraro testified that she did not find sperm or seminal fluid on the clothing, a piece of toilet paper submitted to the lab tested positive for seminal fluid.
Cordraro could not identify the origin of the semen, nor could she state whether it came from consensual sex. However, Cordraro said it is not her job to test for DNA. Instead, her job is to use her training to find certain fluids, and if they are present, those pieces of evidence are forwarded to a DNA analyst. In this case, the DNA analyst to test the samples, Christine Roy, will be called as a rebuttal witness by the prosecution.
“In forensic biology,” Cordraro said, “I just identify bodily fluids, then submit it to the DNA section.”
Cordraro said that two samples taken from the toilet paper tested positive for one sperm cell and a protein in seminal fluid. McGowan asked Cordraro during redirect if she could identify whether the sperm or fluid came from non-consensual sex, but Cordraro said that judgment call was “out of my expertise.”
Another of McGowan’s witnesses, therapist and holistic health counselor Chris Salonia, was disallowed as an expert witness following questions from senior assistant state’s attorney David Shannon about her training. Salonia is currently waiting to testify as an expert witness in a civil suit against the estate of Dr. George Reardon, who allegedly molested hundreds of boys while working as a doctor, and St. Francis Hospital, where Dr. Reardon worked as an endocrinologist.
Responding to questions about her background as a therapist, Salonia claimed that “Western medicine has not found the way to healing” when it comes to sexual assault trauma. Instead, Salonia described pharmaceutical remedies as “chemotherapy” in contrast to her practice of rebirthing and emotional freedom techniques.
“Prozac and alcohol are chemotherapy?” asked Shannon.
“Yes, they’re chemical therapy,” Salonia responded.
Salonia was eventually permitted as a character witness after Judge James P. Ginocchio ruled that her experience treating post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as drug and alcohol dependency, would not make her suited to be an expert witness. Additionally, Salonia stated she would testify that the injuries described by Doe were inconsistent with sexual assault, but Ginocchio ruled that was a medical question for medical experts.
“What I would be testifying to is when you’re sexually assaulted from behind, it’s not how she described,” Salonia said. “You would need to have multiple arms, and John McGowan would need to have a penis like a boa constrictor.”
After attesting to McGowan’s character, though, Salonia’s testimony quickly veered into the political arena. Salonia and McGowan both belong to the Republic of the United States of America, as do the three character witnesses following Salonia. Shannon asked about Salonia’s membership during cross-examination — one of the references Salonia cited for McGowan’s character was a trip the two took to the Republic of the United States of America’s Continental Congress in Utah — touching off a prolonged discussion of the group’s beliefs.
Salonia asserted the Republic’s belief that the Constitution was replaced by former President Abraham Lincoln in 1861, transforming the country into a “corporation.” Salonia and McGowan are both “senators” in the “Connecticut Republic,” one of 50 groups claiming to be part of the Republic of the United States of America. Considering the state of the Constitution, Salonia stated, the Connecticut judicial system has no jurisdiction in the case, because according to “the original Constitution,” McGowan’s accuser must bring the charges against McGowan, not the state of Connecticut.
“The state is accusing me of sexually assaulting the state?” asked McGowan of Salonia, who responded in the affirmative.
McGowan continued by asking Salonia if the case was consequently unconstitutional, since all of the paperwork for the case read “the state of Connecticut vs. John McGowan.” Salonia concurred.
“They’re not the injured party,” Salonia said, “so they have no jurisdiction.”
Ginocchio promptly shut down McGowan’s redirect questions about the Republic’s beliefs, but fellow sovereign citizens testified to McGowan’s character. Some of McGowan’s fellow Connecticut Republic members, including character witness Deborah Jones, make money by selling health products online and through multi-level marketing companies.
“You guys make money together by selling health products online?” Shannon asked Sheri Snow, another witness. Snow responded that “I’m not a part of that.”
Only two potential witnesses remained after Michelle Scalpi, the last of McGowan’s character witnesses, testified — DNA analyst Roy, who will be called as a rebuttal witness – and McGowan himself. Scalpi finished testifying just before noon and the six-member jury was excused to discuss the rest of McGowan’s witnesses.
However, McGowan was still undecided about whether or not he would testify, requesting time to mull over the decision. Ginocchio gave him one more day to present his jury charge, but fully expected to complete testimony the morning of August 9. The trial is well ahead of schedule, and rather than call for a lunch recess when court would immediately adjourn for the day, Ginocchio instead dismissed the jury for the day, adjourning court until August 9 at 9:30 a.m.
Closing arguments are expected no later than August 10.