SALEM — It was the first day of summer, forecast to be a hot one, and the kids had a half-day at school, the woman recalled.
Her friend, Suzanne Desmond, had invited her to spend the afternoon at her Salem home, where their children could play in the Desmond family’s pool while the woman, 45, baby-sat for Suzanne and another friend while they were at work. The three women and their husbands had been close friends for several years.
Nearly a year has passed since that afternoon of June 20, and the three women were once again in the same room, but this time it was the Salem Superior Court, where Desmond’s husband, Matthew Desmond, is standing trial on charges of rape and indecent assault and battery.
Matthew Desmond, 42, is currently suspended from his job as a Salem police lieutenant as a result of those charges.
In her testimony yesterday, the woman told jurors that on that afternoon, as she sat on a sofa next to the Desmonds’ 3-year-old son, Matthew Desmond arrived home from work. As the older children played Wii games nearby, the woman testified, she told the 3-year-old that she was leaving. He got upset, she said, so she began to tickle him.
Suddenly, Desmond “leaned over,” the woman told jurors. “I felt him brush my chest.”
“I wasn’t sure at that point what had just happened,” she testified under questioning by prosecutor Kate MacDougall. Then, in an instant, “Matt leaned over and stuck his hands between my legs,” the woman continued.
“I put my hands on his arm and tried to push it out,” said the woman, who began crying on the stand. “I told him to stop. He just kept putting his hand up further and further.”
As she testified, Suzanne Desmond shook her head, her arms folded.
The woman, who is not being identified by The Salem News because she is an alleged sexual assault victim, told jurors that Matthew Desmond then pulled his hand away and told her to “stop being a tease.”
She said she got up, called out to her son, and announced that she was leaving, as Desmond followed her around the house saying, “Come on, come on.”
“I told him to stay the (expletive) away from me,” said the woman, who minutes later sent a text to her friend Lisa Dionne. “I’m freaking out,” she wrote.
“In a matter of seconds, he destroyed the lives of two families,” MacDougall told jurors in her opening statement.
She called Desmond’s alleged actions that day “a catastrophic betrayal of a friend.”
But Desmond’s attorney, Tom Drechsler, argued that the woman’s account belies common sense — and has shifted over time.
“I suggest to you that version of events is not consistent with common sense or reality,” Drechsler told jurors in his opening statement.
Instead, he suggested, the woman was trying to find a way to cover her own tracks after coming to believe that her son may have seen some inappropriate interactions between her and Desmond.
Drechsler told jurors that the woman and Desmond had been engaging in “flirtatious and physical interactions” for nearly a year, though not a full-blown affair, before their June 20 encounter, starting with a “booze cruise” the couples went on in the summer of 2011.
After the cruise, the Desmonds and the woman and her husband had gone back to the Desmond home, where, the woman later confirmed from the witness stand, she suggested they all go skinny dipping in the Desmonds’ pool.
As time passed, the two engaged in more inappropriate, suggestive talk, sometimes touching, something Drechsler said Desmond “enjoyed.”
The woman, meanwhile, denied that she and Desmond had ever so much as flirted.
“My client had every reason to think this was just another one of those incidents,” Drechsler told the jury. As the kids were “fixated” on their Wii game, the lawyer told jurors, Desmond and the woman rubbed each other’s legs suggestively.
Then the woman’s son appeared to be turning toward them. “Oh my God, he saw, he saw,” Drechsler claimed the woman told Desmond. Desmond didn’t think the boy had seen anything.
But, Drechsler told jurors, the woman was afraid that her son had seen their inappropriate contact. “I’m going to tell (my husband),” Drechsler quoted the woman as saying.
“There’s no need to do that,” Drechsler said Desmond responded.
“You’ve got to tell Suzanne,” the woman allegedly told Desmond.
Later, while talking to her friend, Dionne, the woman said Desmond had reached under her dress but that she had clenched her legs together and pushed him away. She never told Dionne that Desmond had touched her genital area, or that he had brushed his hand over her breasts, Dionne testified.
During his cross-examination of the alleged victim, Drechsler raised those inconsistencies, as well as her failure to tell investigators that she had gone back to the Desmond home just a day before she reported the incident to police, on June 26. She and Suzanne spoke over glasses of wine, Drechsler told jurors.
Instead, she told police that Suzanne had visited her at her and her husband’s home.
“It was a very difficult time,” the woman responded. “I just made a mistake.”
Testimony will resume this morning in the trial, which is expected to conclude tomorrow. It remains to be seen whether Desmond, whose family and friends filled four rows in the courtroom, will take the stand in his own defense.
Desmond’s wife is on the list of potential witnesses for the defense.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.