PATERSON, N.J. (AP) — Prosecutors said Tuesday that a man accused of raping and impregnating his daughters believed God was commanding him to create a pure family bloodline, while the defense urged jurors to keep an open mind amid the “fantastic” details they would hear.
Jurors, who had only been briefed that they would be dealing with a sex assault trial that involved incest, sat rapt during opening arguments in state superior court in Paterson.
The Associated Press generally doesn’t identify victims of sexual crimes and is not reporting the name of the man or his wife — who is scheduled to testify — to protect the identities of their children, who are now over 18.
The man, who was arrested in 2006 and ruled competent to stand trial earlier this year, faces 27 charges including sexual assault, lewdness, child endangerment and criminal sexual contact. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Tuesday marked the start of the first of five separate trials, one per child victim. The man is accused of raping five of his daughters and impregnating three of them.
The proceedings were briefly delayed Tuesday when the defendant, through his lawyer, accused the judge of taking $100,000 from a New York City lawyer to bring charges against him.
The judge said the claim had no merit and said he had only recently learned of the case after inheriting it from another judge.
The trial was also delayed last week after the defendant told the judge he had been assaulted by a prisoner during transport. A court-ordered examination found no evidence of assault.
Because the trials will be held separately, the judge ruled earlier this year that jurors can hear testimony about the home atmosphere but not specific allegations of sexual abuse that pertain to the other cases.
Authorities say the assaults began in the mid-1980s and lasted until 2002, when the parents separated, and occurred at residences in Paterson, East Orange, Orange and Eatontown. Prosecutors say the man ordered all his children to be born at home to remain undocumented, deprived them of food and medical care, kept them out of school and threatened them with death if they told anyone.
Lisa Squitieri, the Passaic County prosecutor handling the case, warned jurors in her opening statements that she would not be mincing words when it came to the types of sexual abuse the victim in the first case endured.
“You’re going to hear about a very sad case … where a child was betrayed by her father and not protected by her mother,” Squitieri said. “She grew up in a home where she watched her mother and siblings be physically and mentally abused. If that wasn’t enough, at 8 years old, (she) had to endure something no child should ever, ever, ever have to go through.”
The defendant’s lawyer, Daryl Pennington, urged the jurors to keep an open mind and uphold the justice system’s core ideal that his client is innocent until proven guilty.
“All the fantastic stories you may hear, and all the gory details — it could be like going to a horror movie on a Friday night — this is not going to go away,” he said. “But remember, we’re talking about people’s lives here, (my client’s) life, your lives, certainly my life will be impacted by this case.”
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)