BY JULIE MANGANIS
---- — SALEM — A veteran Salem police lieutenant was cleared of rape and indecent assault and battery charges by a Salem Superior Court jury yesterday afternoon.
The jury’s verdicts of not guilty in the case against Matthew Desmond, 42, of Salem, were returned after about three hours of deliberation.
Desmond, a police officer for 15 years, was charged last year after a family friend went to police and reported that he had sexually assaulted her on the afternoon of June 20, 2012.
The woman, part of a larger group of friends that included Desmond, his wife, and the woman’s husband, told police that she was baby-sitting at the Desmonds’ home when Desmond arrived.
The woman testified that without any warning, Desmond brushed his hand across her chest and then reached under her skirt as she tried to push him away.
It was an account, defense lawyer Tom Drechsler argued to jurors, that did not make sense, one that was “utterly impossible, utterly implausible.”
“The more plausible story,” Drechsler suggested in his closing argument, “is that during this incident a young boy started to turn around. My client is confident nothing was seen, but (the woman) felt very alarmed.”
Desmond testified that the woman wanted to tell her husband before the boy said anything. And when Desmond, concerned about destroying his marriage, refused to go along with the woman’s request to tell his wife, “it sets her off.”
Desmond testified on Thursday that the pair had been engaged in a “flirtatious” relationship over the prior year, starting when the woman suggested that the Desmonds and she and her husband go skinny-dipping in the Desmonds’ pool following a “booze cruise.”
The woman acknowledged that she had proposed the idea of skinny dipping in the pool, but was adamant that nothing else had happened in the year leading up to the incident on June 20.
Prosecutor Kate MacDougall argued to the jury that Desmond was a man who felt so entitled that he took innocent, friendly greetings and inadvertent contact by the woman as a sign of interest in the months leading up to the incident.
“The only evidence of an affair came from the mouth of Matthew Desmond,” MacDougall told jurors.
“Matthew Desmond thinks this is Matthew Desmond’s world,” suggested the prosecutor, pointing out that on the witness stand, during his testimony, he tried to object twice to questions from MacDougall about which game the children were playing in the room as the incident took place.
“Even in this courtroom, he thinks he gets to decide which questions are fair,” the prosecutor said in her closing argument.
But Desmond’s lawyer had called a mutual friend of Desmond and the alleged victim, Salem Fire Lt. Keith Pelletier, who testified that Desmond had told him in January 2012 that he believed the woman was “coming on” to him.
As the verdicts were read by the foreman of the jury, both Suzanne Desmond and the woman broke down in tears.
Moments after the verdict Desmond and his wife embraced in the courtroom.
“I’ve got my family back,” Suzanne Desmond told a reporter outside court.
Drechsler, Desmond’s attorney, said he was “very, very pleased with the verdict.”
“I know the jury gave it careful attention,” said Drechsler. “To get an acquittal is very, very pleasing and gratifying. I know my client is very happy that it’s over. It was a hard-fought, difficult case.”
Desmond, who has been suspended without pay since his indictment and off the job since his arrest, may still face disciplinary proceedings within the police department if an investigation finds that he violated any internal rules.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at email@example.com or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.