Houghton rape trial opens with alleged victim’s testimony
She said she was 17 when it first happened. Sound asleep. He snuck into her bedroom and slipped his hand down her pajama bottoms. She couldn’t recall the exact date. Just that she asked him to stop, and that he didn’t. That he told her not to worry, it would be just the once.
But it wasn’t, she told the prosecutor yesterday in Merrimack County Superior Court, her eyes damp with tears. A few months later, James Houghton assaulted her again, she testified – in the same bedroom, in the same small home on Craney Pond Road in Henniker. Only this time it was worse, she said. This time he dropped his pants and forced himself fully upon her.
That was the account she offered jurors during the opening of Houghton’s trial, which continues today, on nine charges of aggravated felonious sexual assault and two counts of incest. Houghton, 49, who was convicted last year of 23 counts of possession of child pornography, is accused of raping the now 26-year-old, nonblood relative five times between 2004 and 2011.
The woman “didn’t have choice,” Assistant County Attorney Rachel Harrington said in an opening statement. She didn’t have a choice as Houghton “put his hands down her pants while she was sleeping. She didn’t have a choice a few months later, when he forced her to have sex with him, the first time. She didn’t have a choice when it happened over and over again.”
“Sometimes he used his strength to force her,” Harrington added. “Sometimes he used threats to force her. And sometimes he just ignored her pleas for it to stop.”
But Houghton’s defense raised several components of the woman’s story that they said didn’t add up: her lack of clarity on when the attacks each occurred; that for years she told no one of the abuse; that she moved back in with Houghton about the beginning of 2011, after having relocated to a Concord apartment; that she allegedly requested he take her to Las Vegas for her 22nd birthday.
“These charges – these allegations spanning seven years – never happened,” Melinda Siranian told the jury.
The woman admitted it had taken her years to come forward about the abuse. She didn’t tell her mom, even though they were living in the same house for the first three alleged encounters. She didn’t tell her brother, even though he was alert and just two rooms away during one of the attacks, unaware that she was allegedly trapped in Houghton’s bedroom, the door locked, her arms pinned to the bed.
And she didn’t tell her boyfriend. At least not at first, she said, when they moved in together and Houghton – with his constant barrage of texts and phone calls – was still around; before he was arrested in 2012, after a police investigation that lasted a year.
“I was afraid of him,” she said of Houghton, adding later: “He said constantly that he could ruin my life.”
The woman described Houghton as an incessant micro-manager who had become infatuated with her soon after she moved to New Hampshire from Tennessee, about age 12. He would compliment her on her makeup and suggest that her clothing wasn’t revealing enough, she said.
“He would smack my butt when I was walking around,” she told Harrington.
As she grew older and more independent, Houghton felt his grip over her slipping, she said. After she moved out, about 2009, he continued to inundate her phone with messages, often chastising her for having failed to check in or stop by for a scheduled visit.
Harrington noted one text in particular, apparently sent by Houghton after the woman had moved to Concord, in which he seemed to threaten to distribute naked pictures of her if she did not comply with his daily demands.
“Either u pay now or suffer for all the lying and choosing friends over family,” the message read, in part.
The woman, whom Houghton’s defense will cross-examine today, testified that Houghton assaulted her once at the Concord residence – after helping her move in – and again in March 2011, soon after she returned to Henniker. She said she had no choice but to move back in with him; she had lost her job and had no other places to stay (her mother has been homeless for several years).
She said each time Houghton had overpowered her physically, pinned her down on a bed and told her that she had no choice, that it would be the last time.
(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)