BY JULIE MANGANIS
---- — SALEM — When the 5-year-old girl, still in her pajamas, walked downstairs to “Big Rich’s” room one morning nearly six years ago, “she didn’t know she was walking into a nightmare,” a prosecutor told jurors yesterday.
Richard Gouker’s lawyer, meanwhile, argued that it wasn’t the little girl’s nightmare, but “every man’s nightmare, to have a little girl testify to acts like this,” acts that Gouker denies.
Gouker, 61, of 2 Marion Road, Salem, went on trial yesterday in Salem Superior Court on a charge of child rape, more than five years after he was first charged.
The girl, now 11, described to jurors how she went to Gouker’s room in the basement of his Salem home on the morning of Aug. 5, 2007.
“He had a big TV,” she told jurors. He later explained how big: 51 inches, he testified. Sometimes she would go to his room to watch it.
But on that morning, Gouker was there, she said. She soon found herself being undressed, she said, Gouker telling her not to say anything or else he would kill her mother.
The girl paused as she described what happened next. Gouker climbed on top of her, she said.
“Did it hurt?” asked prosecutor James Gubitose.
“Yes,” the girl said.
But she kept quiet, she said, fearing for her mother.
The girl’s mother later told jurors that after she underwent cancer surgery and could not work, she was forced to move with the girl to Gouker’s home.
Gouker later testified that he felt “obligated” to take them in. “She (the girl’s mother) was my girlfriend’s daughter,” he said.
Mother and daughter shared a pullout sofa bed in a room they referred to as “the library,” the girl’s mother said, making air quotes as she used the word. She paid Gouker rent from her disability insurance checks.
A week later, the girl, who told jurors she loves science, was outside watching the Perseid meteor shower with Gouker when she climbed on top of a car. Gouker angrily ordered her to get off of the car and, he acknowledged yesterday, slapped her.
That triggered a brief, heated exchange between Gouker and the girl’s mother. Shortly after that, the girl disclosed the earlier incident to her mother.
“I started to get upset,” the girl’s mother said. “I cried a little bit. I called her father immediately.”
And then they went to the hospital. The exam, however, was inconclusive, Gubitose acknowledged.
That ought to give jurors pause, public defender Mark Schmidt said in his opening statement.
Gouker was adamant that he did not molest the child.
“Did you do what she said you did?” Schmidt asked his client.
“I most certainly did not,” Gouker replied.
Gouker, Schmidt argued, was being taken advantage of by the girl’s mother. A brief stay had turned into more than a year, and Gouker acknowledged he was frustrated about it.
“I was being taken advantage of,” he told the jury of 10 men and four women.
The little girl often ran around on the first floor, over the room where Gouker slept, he testified. She and her mother were night owls, showering or doing laundry late at night, and the child left her clothing on the floor, he said.
“I did say to her she had to pay more attention to me,” Gouker testified. “This is my house.”
Public records show that Gouker and his now-deceased mother purchased the home in 1987.
After the girl and her mother spoke to police, Gouker agreed to be questioned by Salem police. He returned home and took photos of the room where the two had stayed, making sure to include pictures of pornographic DVDs in a box and on a high shelf. There was a television in the room, as well.
Gubitose asked Gouker why he took the photos.
“When I saw what I saw, I took it,” Gouker said during his cross-examination. Why, the prosecutor asked. “Because I thought it’s inappropriate to be in that room,” Gouker replied.
“You knew the allegations at that point,” the prosecutor said.
“To a point,” Gouker answered.
Closing arguments are expected to take place this morning.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.