Attorney wants to interview witness
Request made in alleged WCU rape case that took place in a campus parking garage
WEST CHESTER>> The attorney for a former West Chester University student charged with sexually assaulting a fellow student in a campus parking garage said Wednesday he wants to interview a woman who interrupted the incident and told police that she had “just witnessed a rape.”
Phillip Press of Norristown, representing defendant Austin Eaddy, told Common Pleas Judge David Bortner that he believes the woman, who later sat with the alleged victim while police questioned her about what had happened, may be a sexual assault survivor herself, something that could have affected how she responded to the incident.
The woman may also have allowed her past experiences to shape how the alleged victim viewed what had happened, Press said during a pre-trial hearing Wednesday.
“I want to know about this witness,” Press said during the hourlong proceeding. “She may previously have been a victim, or someone close to her was. I believe this goes right to my client’s right to confront a witness at trial.” Her past “may have colored her perception” of what she saw that night, he said.
“This is the seed that leads us to where we are today,” Press told the judge. “I just want to know what caused that witness to jump to that conclusion.”
Eaddy, 24, of Philadelphia, is charged with rape, sexual assault, aggravated indecent assault, theft by unlawful taking, simple assault, indecent assault, and harassment. He is being held on $100,000 bail in Chester County Prison awaiting trial. Seated at the defense table during the hearing, Eaddy did not address the court. He was, however, given permission to speak with his mother, who was in the courtroom. Press said it was her birthday.
The prosecutor in the case, Assistant District Attorney Jonathan Harrar, told Bortner that he could not stand in the way of Press, or a defense investigator working on the case, seeking to question the witness about her past, or anything else. He indicated, however, that he would object to any questions that Press could pose about her past experiences at trial as out of order.
“That’s what I am pushing
back at,” Harrar said. “It is irrelevant to what she saw that night.”
There is no firm evidence, he added, that the witness had ever been assaulted. He said later that she is under no obligation to discuss the case with Press before trial, and that she could flatly refuse to meet with a defense investigator.
According to university police, the woman came upon the alleged assault in the early morning hours of April 1, hearing a woman’s screams inside the New Street Parking Garage and then seeing a man, later
identified as Eaddy, grappling with the woman next to a car parked there. When she shouted at the man, “What are you doing?” he cursed and ran away, jumping from a second floor window of the garage.
The woman, identified in the criminal complaint as Catherine Doherty, was able to attend to the alleged victim after she started to walk away from the scene, and then sat with her while she gave a statement to university police about what had happened to her. Doherty told police that she had said to herself when the incident occurred that, “She had just witnessed a rape.”
Press has maintained that what occurred in the garage was consensual, and that the alleged victim had initially told Doherty that she knew Eaddy and
did not want to have police involved. It was not until later, said the defense attorney, that the alleged victim changed her story and said she had not know Eaddy beforehand and that he had forced her to have sex.
It was because Doherty was allowed to sit with the woman during questioning that led Press to suggest that she subtly given her the cues to claim she had been attacked. “I am of the firm belief that this was a consensual act,” he said.
Press’ demand to be permitted to interview Doherty came in a motion for discovery that included a request to see campus surveillance videos recorded the night of the incident, and to have the court pay the costs of a private investigator to help him interview her and other potential witnesses, as well as a psychologist to testify about how Doherty’s past may influence what he perceived.
The attorney said that although he had been hired to represent Eaddy, he had not been paid in full by his family. Eaddy, who was a sophomore at the school living on campus when he was arrested, is indigent and cannot afford to pay those costs.
Bortner did not rule on the request for funds, saying that he knew of no authority that private attorneys were entitled to such fees paid by taxpayers. He directed Press to contact the Chester County Solicitor’s Office to see what their position would be.
Harrar said he welcomed Press’s request for additional surveillance tapes from the university police, and that he had turned over the only such tapes he had been given. One tape shows Eaddy and the alleged victim entering the garage together about 2 a.m., but nothing he had been given shows how or where the two came in contact, he said.
Press said his theory was that the two — who had been at separate parties that night — met near a bus stop on campus where the alleged victim had walked to with a friend. She was extremely intoxicated, and could not tell police later how she had gotten to the garage on her way home to the dorm in which she lived.
He suggested that the woman, whose name was not disclosed in the criminal complaint filed by former West Chester University Detective Roland Walker III, may have thought that Eaddy was
“If there is something different about this case I would want to see it. I would love to know how and when they met because my witness does not remember.” — Assistant District Attorney Jonathan Harrar
someone she knew and went with him to the garage willingly.
“I’ve been begging him to go to the university to get what he wants,” Harrar told Bortner. “If there is something different about this case I would want to see it.” He said he had been told that no other video exists showing the two together. “I would love to know how and when they met because my witness does not remember.”
Bortner said that the trial in the case would likely not occur until early next year.