Tony Cercy’s defense team attempted Thursday to impeach the reliability of an expert witness who said victims of sexual assault are often slow to report, if they do so at all.
A 21-year-old woman testified earlier this week that she woke to Cercy performing oral sex on her after she had passed out at his Alcova lake home. His defense team has sought to challenge her credibility by suggesting her story changed between the time of the alleged assault and when she went to police.
Cercy is facing three felony counts of sexual assault. He has pleaded not guilty and maintains the incident never happened.
Appearing Thursday in Natrona County District Court, Denver psychologist Sheri Vanino testified it is uncommon for survivors of sexual assault to report to police at all. She said victims frequently wonder if they were indeed assaulted, especially if the assault wasn’t violent and came at the hands of someone they knew.
The woman first spoke to authorities on June 28, about three days after the assault is alleged to have occurred.
She texted her then-boyfriend in the days following the alleged assault saying she was unsure if she had been assaulted, according to her testimony. The woman, who was 20 at the time, has known Cercy since she was in middle school.
Vanino spoke Thursday in general terms about her experience with clients that have been sexually assaulted. She has not interviewed the alleged victim in the case and has not reviewed investigative documents, she said.
During cross-examination, defense attorney Jeff Pagliuca attempting to cast doubt on Vanino’s reliability as a witness by asking her about her pay rate and implying that her observations of victim responses were overly broad.
The defense attorney at one point implied that the woman had practiced law without a license by co-founding a Colorado firm that specialized in representing victims of violent crime. The firm is now closed and the psychologist said she did not hold an ownership stake in the firm.
Expert witnesses are commonly compensated for giving testimony at trial. Vanino has previously testified on behalf of the defense, she said.
Cercy’s lawyers are expected to put a neuropsychologist on the stand as an expert witness to rebut Vanino’s testimony.
Third day of testimony
A friend of both the alleged victim and the Cercy family was the first witness of the day called by District Attorney Mike Blonigen.
Hezekiah White said giving the testimony was difficult due to his conflicting friendships.
“I wanna believe her, and ... I don’t wanna believe it’s true,” he said.
White told jurors he went to Cercy’s lake house June 24 with a group of friends, including the alleged victim. The woman passed out on a couch and White said when he could not wake her, he left.
White awoke the next morning and, after charging his phone, he found a text message from the woman reading “Help, please,” he testified. He also had missed multiple calls from the alleged victim.
In a text message conversation on June 26, White told the woman he thought any alleged assault would be too late to report, before telling her that she should seek her parents’ advice if she were to report.
He said under cross-examination that the woman had ridden to Cercy’s house in the bed of a utility vehicle. Blonigen has said that bruising on the woman’s legs was caused by Cercy, but Denver defense attorney Pamela Mackey has implied that it was instead caused by getting in and out of a boat and riding in the utility vehicle.
Cercy is also represented by local attorney Ian Sandefer.
Kera Bullard took the stand next, and said she was present at Cercy’s house hours before the assault is alleged to have occurred. Bullard said she was concerned the alleged victim has drank too much, but later had her concerns put to rest when she saw the woman stir after a dog licked her face. Bullard left with her husband around 1 a.m., she said.
After a break for lunch, Jason Bullard, Kera’s husband, testified. His testimony was largely similar to his wife’s. He told jurors Cercy was intoxicated when he saw him, though not to the point of having difficulty walking.
Bullard later said under questioning from Blonigen that it was accurate to describe Cercy as “completely hammered.”
Vanino took the stand next, and described her experience working with victims of sexual assault. She said people frequently do not report being assaulted for fear of shame, embarrassment, blame and retaliation by assailants.
After Vanino’s testimony, Taylor Courtney, a sheriff’s investigator, testified about the process by which he executed search warrants that authorized him to take a sample of Cercy’s DNA and search the Alcova house.
Deputy Michael Moravec then told the jury he has seen the alleged witness sitting in the fetal position when he interviewed her June 28 at Wyoming Medical Center. The account she gave Moravec was largely consistent with what she told jurors Tuesday.
Jennifer Brammeir, a forensic analyst at the state crime lab, then took the stand and said spoke about the process by which she looks for DNA evidence on clothing samples. Brammeir said under questioning from Blonigen there are limits to DNA testing, but the crime lab will always test submitted samples, no matter how much time had elapsed between the alleged assault and the sample collection.
The trial is set to resume at 8:30 a.m. Friday and continue into next week.