PLATTSBURGH — Opening statements Thursday in the attempted-rape trial of Trevor J. Donah told the story of an encounter between the state trooper and his ex-girlfriend in their Plattsburgh apartment in September 2008.
While the prosecution suggests Donah was an abusive boyfriend who sometimes caused his girlfriend to live in fear of him, the defense asserts his only wrongdoing was cheating on the woman.
There is no physical evidence to support the charges of first-degree attempted rape, second-degree assault and first-degree unlawful imprisonment, the defense emphasized.
Wearing a suit and tie, Donah sat expressionless between his defense attorney, Brian Barrett, and co-counsel, Lorraine White.
In her opening statement, Franklin County Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Crawford outlined the upcoming testimony of Donah’s ex-girlfriend, describing a night of what she says was a heated physical fight between Donah and his ex-girlfriend.
Crawford said Donah’s ex had read emails on his laptop computer that led her to believe he was was being unfaithful to her.
When Donah returned from work that day, his girlfriend confronted him about his infidelity, Crawford told the jury, composed of seven men and six women.
An argument ensued, and Donah pushed her backward and tossed his laptop on the couch, Crawford said.
“He’s screaming at her, and he’s angry,” she said.
Crawford said the altercation escalated from there, with Donah pushing his ex-girlfriend down the hall and into the bedroom, where he threw her up against a wall.
She then fell onto the bed, she said.
‘RISK OF DEATH’
“Before she can figure out what’s going on, the defendant is strangling her,” Crawford said. “Her thought process quickly switches (from fear) to, ‘This is the night I’m going to die.”
Donah strangled his ex-girlfriend to the point where she couldn’t breathe, Crawford said.
“In that instant, he’s putting her in substantial risk of death.”
The attack lasted about 30 minutes, Crawford said, often de-escalating to conversation between Donah and his ex.
But Crawford said the woman was still trapped on the bed.
Toward the end of the incident, the prosecutor said, Donah lay on top of his ex-girlfriend.
“He’s poking her, and he’s saying, ‘This is what you want.’”
The woman could barely believe he could say that to her after what he had done, Crawford said.
The argument ended with Donah making her promise not to go to the police, she said.
‘SLEPT IN TRUCK’
Donah’s ex had marks on her neck that she concealed from her co-workers by wearing a turtleneck, the assistant district attorney said.
“She didn’t want anyone to know,” Crawford said. “She was embarrassed. She was afraid.”
The woman didn’t tell anyone about the attack until 2012, Crawford said, telling the court her testimony would explain that.
In her opening statement, Lorraine White, co-counsel for the defense, said Donah’s ex-girlfriend had asked him to stay the night with her in their apartment after the fight.
He declined, White said, opting to sleep in his pickup truck.
He moved out of the apartment with the help of a friend, who also worked as a trooper, White said.
While Donah and the woman’s relationship had initially been a positive experience for both of them, that night in 2008 had not been the first time Donah had frightened his ex-girlfriend, Crawford said.
When Donah attended the State Police Academy, he learned tactics that he used to hurt her, the assistant district attorney said.
He would sometimes take his thumb and apply pressure to her jaw so that she was unable to speak, Crawford said.
“She’s scared that if she fights (back), he’s going to employ more tactics.”
Crawford said Donah would also kick his knee into his ex, incapacitating her for a moment.
And, on two occasions, the trooper pinned his then-girlfriend’s golden retriever to the floor, and the dog struggled while Donah stared at his ex, Crawford said.
White said Donah did have a fight with his ex that night, but the prosecution’s allegations are false.
“This is a simple and straightforward case,” she said. “This entire story is fiction; it simply did not happen.”
The woman’s story, White said, involves the jealous actions of a “vengeful and vindictive ex-girlfriend” who jumped at the chance to get revenge on Donah almost five years after the incident.
Donah’s ex was angered that he didn’t love her anymore, White said.
And she said Donah fell out of love with the woman because of her erratic behavior and jealousy, coupled with his growing love for another.
White called Donah’s ex “an emotionally unstable woman who thrives on drama,” who was in a “fit of rage” that night, when she learned Donah had cheated on her.
The three charges are “baseless and malicious claims” aimed at ruining Donah’s reputation, White said.
Crawford objected to White’s opening statement multiple times.
“She’s asking for sympathy from the jury,” the ADA told Clinton County Judge Patrick McGill.
McGill ordered a couple of White’s statements be stricken from the record.
“What is there to prove in the case the state wants you to believe? Nothing,” White said toward the end of her address.
“Trevor Donah never assaulted (his ex). He left her for another woman.”
Before adjourning court for the day a few minutes before 4 p.m., McGill finished giving the jury instructions not to discuss the case or form any opinions about it.
“You must keep an open mind throughout the trial,” he told the panel.
The trial was set to resume at 9:30 a.m. Friday.
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