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Top Elected Official of Resort Town Charged With Rape

October 30, 1996

SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (AP) _ The top elected official on Block Island was among three people charged Tuesday with raping a 21-year-old woman who worked at his tavern, prompting residents to call for his resignation.

Edward McGovern, a councilman for 14 years, is running unopposed in next Tuesday’s election and still has the support of the town council.

``The council said, `We’re with you until proven guilty. We think you should continue doing your work,‴ said David Holt, town manager in the resort off the Rhode Island coast.

McGovern, 48, restaurateur Jack Capizzano, 41, and Phil O’Donnell, 30, a chef on Block Island, were arraigned here on a charge of first-degree sexual assault. It carries a minimum penalty of 10 years and up to life in prison.

The men, who were not required to enter a plea, each posted $5,000 cash bail and quickly left out a side door of the court. The charges will be brought before a grand jury.

The accuser, who had jobs at McGovern’s Yellow Kittens Tavern and at Capizzano’s Pizza, told police she was offered a mixed drink while she was helping clean up the tavern after closing on Oct. 6.

She claimed McGovern started stroking her leg and Capizzano tried to touch her, police said. She told police that McGovern followed her to a ladies room, where she passed out.

She awoke to find the three men huddled around her, removing her clothes and attacking her, police said. She said she was unable to fight them off.

Later that day, Capizzano went to the woman’s apartment to apologize, and O’Donnell and McGovern tried to contact her before she went to police, court documents show.

The next day, police questioned Capizzano, who acknowledged that the three had sex with the woman, but said it was consensual, according to court documents.

Christopher Shaban, spokesman for state Attorney General Jeff Pine, would not say whether tests were run to determine what the woman drank.

Capizzano’s lawyer, Richard Bicki, said his client was innocent.

``We believe he will be exonerated. We further believe the charges will be shown to be false and misleading,″ Bicki said.

McGovern’s lawyer, Leonard O’Brien, did not return repeated phone calls and a call to O’Donnell’s lawyer, Lise Gescheidt, was not answered after business hours.

The charge against McGovern immediately drew about 14 demonstrators who marched outside the island’s town hall and called on McGovern to resign.

``That is not the type of leadership we need here,″ protester Cathy Payne said. ``It’s been a terrible embarrassment for our community. It’s shameful. It’s a disgrace.″

McGovern told town officials two weeks ago after the accusations were first reported that he may have to leave office to defend himself.

``He’s made a statement to the council that if the burden of the defense is too much or too time consuming, he may consider (leaving),″ Holt said.

The close-knit island is home to about 1,000 residents year round _ many of them from families who have lived there for generations. The population swells in the summer as tourists flock to the largely undeveloped island with its striking coastline.

Violent crimes are rare _ one rape was reported last year.

``It’s a very cohesive community,″ Holt said. ``People who come here feel safe and secure and not afraid.″

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