BY JULIE MANGANIS
---- — SALEM — A Salem man has been cleared of a child rape allegation.
Richard Gouker, 61, of 2 Marion Road was found not guilty by a Salem Superior Court jury yesterday afternoon, following a two-day trial.
Gouker was charged with raping a 5-year-old girl who was living in his home at the time. She told her mother and later told investigators that she had gone to Gouker’s room in the basement to watch his big-screen television, when she found herself being undressed and then sexually abused by Gouker.
The girl, now 11, told jurors that Gouker warned her not to tell anyone or he’d kill her mother.
The girl did not tell her mother until a week later, after an angry exchange with Gouker while they were watching a meteor shower and she climbed atop his car.
Though her parents immediately took her to an emergency room, doctors found that the evidence of sexual assault was “inconclusive.”
Defense attorney Mark Schmidt urged jurors to reject what he called the girl’s “practiced” testimony during his closing argument yesterday.
Schmidt also suggested that the jury consider that Gouker agreed to speak to police after the report was made, and that he took the stand to testify during the trial.
“He wanted to tell you his story,” said Schmidt, who had earlier called the case “every man’s nightmare.”
He suggested that the girl had lied, then couldn’t find a way out of it. “Once that train gets rolling, it’s awfully difficult to stop it,” Schmidt told the jury.
“It did not happen,” Schmidt said.
Prosecutor James Gubitose had hoped to convince jurors that the girl was telling the truth.
“You have everything you need,” Gubitose said. “If, after the victim got off the stand, if you believed her, he raped a 5-year-old girl.”
If she didn’t recall every detail, the prosecutor argued, it was likely due to the fact that the case was 6 years old — more than half her lifetime — by the time it came to trial.
Her account has been consistent, Gubitose said. “The truth doesn’t change. It is what it is.” If she couldn’t recall some details, “she remembers the big stuff.”
“Why would you not believe her?” the prosecutor asked the jury. If anyone had a motive to lie, it was Gouker, suggested Gubitose.
The jury of 10 men and two women deliberated for about three hours, at one point asking the judge if there was any additional evidence, such as interviews of the girl.
Interviews of victims, however, are usually not provided to juries because they are considered inadmissible hearsay evidence. Instead, the jury is asked to rely on a victim’s testimony in court, where they can be cross-examined, as the girl was on Wednesday.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.