SALEM — Opening statements will take place this morning in the trial of a veteran Salem police officer accused of sexually assaulting a family friend in his Salem home last June.
Matthew Desmond, 42, has been suspended without pay from his position as a lieutenant as a result of the charges: rape and indecent assault and battery on a person 14 or older.
Desmond, through his attorney, has pleaded not guilty and denies the allegations, saying that any contact between the two was consensual.
Jury selection got underway yesterday morning in Salem Superior Court, where Judge Timothy Feeley is presiding over what is expected to be a four-day trial.
The allegations surfaced last July, after the woman went to police to report that during a visit to Desmond’s home on June 20, he brushed his hand over her chest, then reached between her legs. The woman told police that she was sitting on a sofa with a child, and with two other children playing nearby, when Desmond approached her.
The woman had been watching Desmond’s children and her own child as they used Desmond’s pool, she told police. Desmond and his wife had been friends with the woman and her husband.
The issue of whether to tell potential jurors about the fact that Desmond and the woman knew each other before the alleged incident was one of several that Feeley took up yesterday with prosecutor Kate MacDougall and defense lawyer Thomas Drechsler, prior to the arrival of the jury pool.
MacDougall expressed concern that potential jurors might hold differing views of a rape case depending on whether the accused knew the alleged victim. Drechsler said he did not disagree with that concern, and the jury pool was told that the two knew each other.
Another issue was who will be allowed in the courtroom during the trial.
Desmond’s wife is a potential witness for her husband, Drechsler told the judge, but would like to be present throughout the trial. With no objection from MacDougall, Feeley ruled that the officer’s wife can remain in the courtroom, despite an order that will bar most of the other witnesses from listening to testimony.
Also allowed to be present in the courtroom is Salem police Capt. Tom Griffin, who investigated the case, so that he can assist the prosecutor.
Feeley ordered that police officers who testify or who appear in court to watch the trial may not wear their uniform in the courtroom.
“I just don’t think it’s appropriate for off-duty police officers to be here in uniform while testifying or watching the proceedings,” Feeley said.
Desmond, who has been free on personal recognizance in the case, was accompanied to court by his wife and other family members.
The sister of the alleged victim sat in the courtroom next to Griffin for part of the morning; Drechsler raised a concern that Griffin, who will be taking the stand during the trial, not appear to be taking sides in the case by sitting with the accuser’s supporters.
Some other, more substantive, legal issues, including whether the prosecution will be allowed to introduce some statements Desmond made about the woman prior to the alleged incident, may be addressed as the trial is underway.
Desmond had worked for the Salem police department for 15 years and had been a lieutenant for nine when the allegations surfaced.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.