Accuser Takes Stand in Ord Priest Sexual Assault Trial
January 7, 2020
ORD, Neb. — A woman who said she was sexually assaulted by a Catholic priest took the stand Tuesday in Day 2 of the anticipated four-day trial in Ord.
Rev. John Kakkuzhiyil is facing one count of forcible sexual assault in Valley County District Court from a November 2018 incident, and he has maintained a not guilty plea. Kakkuzhiyil was placed on leave in December 2018.
The woman claimed she visited him at his home on professional business, saying she was interviewing him for a project she was working on. She told the court that Kakkuzhiyil asked her to wear a red dress to his home for the interview and asked her to pack a bag.
The woman said when she arrived at his home, he offered her a glass of Crown Royal, which she said he repeatedly filled for her.
"I thought I was in a safe place... I was in a Catholic priest's home," she said on the stand.
She said Kakkuzhiyil kept changing the topic when she tried to interview him, and instead began showing off his home.
The woman told jurors that the last things she remembers is losing consciousness in the bathroom and hitting her head.
She said she awoke in the priest's bedroom, with him performing oral sex on her, to her objection. She said Kakkuzhiyil grabbed her hand and placed it on him, as she repeatedly shouted, "This is not OK."
The woman said she didn't know what was going on. "My mind was making sense of a senseless situation," she said in the courtroom.
She said she couldn't find all her clothes or her phone, saying she eventually found her phone between the mattress and the box spring - a place she said she wouldn't have put it.
The woman told jurors she left on her bicycle, still missing one sock and her underwear.
"My brain went into survival mode," she said.
She said she thought it was a bad dream, saying "A Catholic priest just raped me."
The courtroom was silent, as the woman broke down on the stand, sharing her story.
On Tuesday afternoon, the jury heard testimony in the form of a recorded police interview with Kakkuzhiyil.
In the video, he told an investigator that he did not have sex with the woman, but admitted to kissing her and touching her breasts. He also said he never had a naked woman in his room before that incident.
An officer could be heard on the video asking Kakkuzhiyil, "Did you think it was OK to do that if she wasn’t awake? What do you think should happen to a person who does that against someone’s consent?”
Kakkuzhiyil said, "I never had sex with her. Nothing of that sort."
In opening arguments on Monday, Kakkuzhiyil was heard on a recording made by Sheriff Casey Hurlburt, as he listened to his accuser.
"I had no intention of taking advantage of you my dear," Kakkuzhiyil said on the recording.
In her words, "You took a vow of chastity, you're supposed to be a safe haven for people."
In another point in their conversation recorded by the sheriff, the woman said Kakkuzhiyil took advantage of her.
"You were naked on top of me," she said.
"We did not have intercourse," Kakkuzhiyil responded.
"This is not okay," is how prosecutor Gail VerMaas spoke for the alleged victim.
Defense attorney Mark Porto said there's more context to the night than people have heard. He said the woman had bonded with the priest during a mission trip to Haiti the week before, and said she was going through a breakup with her boyfriend.
Porto said she cheated on her boyfriend with a priest, a decision she came to regret.
During jury selection, Kakkuzhiyil's attorney told jurors they may feel the need to punish a priest for sexual abuse scandals in the church, or because of the "me too" movement, but told them to listen to the evidence.
Also the defense stressed violations of Catholic teaching are not the same as violations of law.
If convicted, Kakkuzhiyil could face a maximum of 50 years in prison.