January 18, 2022

Jury to resume deliberations in sexual assault case

MACHIAS – A Washington County jury is expected to resume deliberations today in the case of a Calais man accused of sexually assaulting the 2-year-old child he was baby-sitting.

Vernald Strikefoot, 77, was charged on Nov. 9 with gross sexual assault after he offered to baby-sit the child of friends and allegedly assaulted the child while the Calais couple was away.

During testimony Thursday in Superior Court, the child’s father testified that he had worked with Strikefoot, who was a roofer and handyman.

On Nov. 9, Strikefoot had given him $20 and told him to take his wife out for the evening. He asked that they be home by 7 p.m.

The father testified that he and his wife decided to return home an hour earlier than planned.

The father said that when he walked past the window of their trailer he saw that some couch cushions had been stacked on the end of the couch and that his child had been draped over the cushions. He said he saw a partially nude Strikefoot standing behind the naked child. He said he saw Strikefoot with his hands in his pants “starting to do something.”

He said that he rushed into the trailer and threw Strikefoot onto the couch, grabbed his daughter and gave her to his wife. His wife took the crying child into another room, and the father yelled at her to call police.

The mother testified that she also saw a partially dressed Strikefoot standing behind her child. She said she hugged her daughter and told her she was sorry. She said she then began hitting and kicking Strikefoot. She said she grabbed his crotch. “I was outraged. I wanted to hurt him. I twisted and squeezed,” she testified.

An emergency room doctor at Calais Regional Hospital, Dr. Arthur Manning, testified that although there were signs of trauma to the child’s genitalia, there was “no medical conclusion on the cause of the trauma.”

Strikefoot took the stand in his own defense. He testified that he had not touched the 2-year-old and suggested the couple had come up with an elaborate scheme to get even with him because he had threatened to fire the father because of problems at work. “I told him if you don’t stop drinking, I’m going to fire you,” he testified.

When asked why he would baby-sit for their child if he was going to fire the father, Strikefoot said they always made up and shook hands.

He said the child was nude because she had gone to the bathroom and he was trying to help her put her underwear on. He also testified that the cushions were stacked because he had helped the girl move them so she could look for her toys. Later, Strikefoot testified that they were stacked because it helped him to put her underwear on.

Strikefoot testified that when the couple returned home, the father went to the refrigerator to get a beer and the mother stayed outside smoking.

It was then, Strikefoot said, that he again warned the father that if he didn’t stop drinking, he would fire him. He said the father yelled he would get even with him and attacked and knocked him out. He said when he awoke, his zipper was open, suggesting that the father had opened it.

Strikefoot also said that it had been 10 years since he had had an erection and he also had stopped having sexual relations with his wife because her church had told her to stop. He said he had asked the doctor for Viagra, but it had not helped.

Assistant District Attorney Paul Cavanaugh reminded Strikefoot that he told police shortly after he was questioned that the reason his zipper was down was because it often fell down on the pants he was wearing. When Cavanaugh reminded Strikefoot that what he was telling the jury was different from what he had told police shortly after he was questioned, Strikefoot said, “I was in a too traumatized state to answer any questions.”

During closing arguments, Cavanaugh reminded the jurors that a doctor had testified that the child had incurred injuries around her genitalia. He also reminded them of what the parents had seen and how they had reacted.

But Strikefoot’s attorney, Norman Toffolon of Machias, said that the state had not demonstrated that Strikefoot had sexually assaulted the child, nor that he had even sexually touched the child with his genitalia. He reminded the jury that none of Strikefoot’s DNA was found anywhere on the child.

He said that although the jury might not like his client, the evidence indicated that his client had one hand in his pants and the other on the child, and his hand was manipulating his genitalia, which weren’t touching the child.

After the jury deliberated for two hours Thursday, Justice E. Allen Hunter told the panel to return this morning.

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