NEW YORK - The principal witness in the rape and murder trial of Hunter College student Romona Moore took the stand on March 8, parrying pointed attacks from the defense. Two Brooklyn men are accused of raping and murdering Moore in April 2003.
In a concerted attempt to discredit the 18-year-old witness' version of the story, Steven Chaikin, attorney for one of the two Brooklyn men, led the witness through her own adolescent history of beatings and molestation by her grandmother, and her attempts to evade such punishment through an elaborate lie.
"It only happened once that I lied," said the witness.
The two defendants, Troy Hendrix and Kayson Pearson, sat in a holding cell listening to the proceedings. This was the third week in the re-trial of a case from January when the defendants attempted to escape the courtroom. They stabbed an attorney and scuffled with security before being restrained. For most of this trial they have observed the proceedings via teleconferencing from Rikers Island.
Speaking to witness, Chaikin began, "I'd say good morning but I don't want to scare you."
Chaikin questioned the witness in a condescending tone, going back to an incident in 2000. At 12, the witness ran away. She told her grandmother and the police that she had been kidnapped in order to escape the wrath of her grandmother.
"She verbally and physically abused me," said the witness from the stand.
With huge headshots of the defendants projected onto a wall screen, the witness recounted her version of her alleged April 2003 rape by the defendants in a basement apartment. She was 15 at the time. In her testimony the previous day, she claimed that they threatened to kill her like the girl the night before, presumed to be the Ramona Moore.
During her testimony, her version of what happened in the basement changed three times.
The desired result of the cross examination was not to refute that a rape had occurred but to put into question her memory of Hendrix's involvement the incident, said Chaikin, who is representing Hendrix.
"I believe I've established a motive for her to lie," concluded the defense.
Honorable Justice Albert Tomei presides over this trial in the State Supreme Court in Brooklyn.