Defense in Henniker sex assault trial grills accuser
James Houghton’s defense attorneys struck back yesterday against a now 26-year-old woman who has accused their client of multiple sexual assaults, questioning her sharply on several points that they had suggested to jurors a day earlier did not add up.
The woman said Houghton, a 49-year-old nonblood relative, raped her five times beginning in 2004, all but once inside their cramped Henniker home. She testified Monday in Merrimack County Superior Court that he forced sex on her on four occasions, and that he once groped her in her sleep.
Houghton is charged with nine counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault and two counts of incest. A verdict is expected today.
But Melinda Siranian, one of Houghton’s public defenders, pressed the woman on details from the years she spent living with Houghton, including items and vacations Houghton had bankrolled, and the fact that she had voluntarily slept in Houghton’s bed after the first few alleged incidents. Siranian implied, as she had in her opening statement Monday, that the woman filed her claims against Houghton only when she no longer depended on his wallet.
The woman acknowledged that Houghton had paid for a weeklong trip – just the two of them – to Las Vegas, but took issue with Siranian’s characterization that she had been the one to request it.
“That is what you wanted for your birthday present?” Siranian asked.
“That’s what I was told would be my birthday present,” she said.
The woman also acknowledged that she had slept in Houghton’s bed, but she said it had started because another person had moved into the house, making space tight. She said Houghton initially told her the arrangement would be temporary, but that he continued to compel her to sleep there, and that they would often get into shouting matches about it.
Siranian asked why the woman had returned to the Henniker house in 2010, roughly a year after moving out and after four alleged assaults. The woman said she had lost her job, and later explained that she had been fired for stealing about $1,600.
Siranian, though, noted other housing options that were available besides Houghton’s – with friends, co-workers, other family members.
“But instead you moved back in with Jim?” she asked.
“Yes,” the woman responded.
“The man you say assaulted you several times, beginning in 2004?” Siranian continued.
“There was a reason I moved back in with him,” the woman shot back, choking back tears. “Because I was told I had no choice.”
The woman said Monday that Houghton had threatened to “ruin my life” whenever she disagreed with or appeared to defy him. Assistant County Attorney Rachel Harrington showed jurors a text sent from Houghton’s phone in which he threatened to distribute naked pictures of her for having chosen “friends over family.” She also showed jurors the photos Houghton threatened to send.
Harrington asked yesterday why the woman had not disclosed the assaults until 2011.
“The less people I told it was easier for me,” she replied. “I didn’t know what would happen, where I would end up going. I was scared, embarrassed. I didn’t want people to think I wanted it. That I consented to it. That I was the one who wanted it.”
“Was that ever true?” Harrington asked.
(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)