Clashes, Theatrics Dominate Caregiver Sex Trial
WILKES-BARRE — Frequent clashes, a motion for a mistrial and a prosecutor joining a witness on a bed for a courtroom demonstration on Thursday punctuated the trial of a caregiver accused of sexually molesting a severely mentally disabled woman.
The day was consumed by testimony by a single witness, LaShanda Williams, who talked about how her former co-worker, Andrew Dula III, 56, of Shickshinny, acted when he got to the Institute for Human Resources and Services care home at 99 N. Dawes Ave. in Kingston the night of Feb. 2, 2016.
Dula, she said, began by combing his hair at the bathroom sink and singing the nickname of a 36-year-old patient who has the mental capacity of a small child.
“He was singing, ‘I love you, (the woman’s name),’” Williams said.
Later that night, Williams heard a frightened scream and entered the woman’s room to find her naked from the waist down with her bare legs in Dula’s arms, she said. Dula, who had been previously warned against unnecessary diaper changes, had removed the woman’s clean diaper and was holding a new one, she said.
As a visual aid, Assistant District Attorney Nancy Violi unveiled a twin-sized bed in the courtroom. Williams, playing the role of the woman, laid perpendicular on the bed with her legs in the air and arms outstretched toward where the bedroom door would have been. Violi sat on the edge of the bed next to Williams’ head, demonstrating where Williams said she sat after entering the bedroom.
“She was clawing at me. She was actually scratching me, trying to get to me,” Williams said. “She was frantic.”
The woman would not calm down — Williams said she had to leave her bedroom light on and put a chair outside her door to watch her for the rest of the night. Dula, meanwhile, was uncharacteristically quiet and stayed in the basement for the remainder of the shift, she said.
Defense attorney Al Flora Jr. objected to Williams’ testimony dozens of times, frequently when she tried describing the feelings she believed the nonverbal woman had been experiencing. On cross-examination, Williams agreed the woman was severely mentally disabled and that Williams could not be sure of her emotions.
“Your interpretation of her actions might be very different from someone else’s interpretation of her actions, correct?” Flora asked.
“Yes,” Williams agreed.
Williams also drew Flora’s ire when she said she had previously given Dula the benefit of the doubt over the woman’s crying and whining in his presence because she hadn’t expected anyone to “do something to someone who was handicapped.”
The defense attorney immediately moved for a mistrial, which Luzerne County Judge David W. Lupas denied. Flora then requested a side-bar discussion that ended with Lupas allowing Williams’ statement into evidence.
The day started off with fireworks even before the jury entered the courtroom. After spending nearly 11 hours in court Wednesday during a session that ended around 8:30 p.m., Flora on Thursday morning requested Lupas to adjourn court earlier in the future, noting jurors have personal lives and should not be forced to spend all their time in court.
Violi was quick to place the blame for the late session on Flora, whose actions she said have caused extensive delays in what should have been a week-long trial.
Violi noted that during jury selection, Flora asked “hundreds” of follow-up questions of jurors, extending what is often an hours-long process into a marathon selection period that consumed two entire days.
She also pointed out that Flora’s cross-examinations have been voluminous. One witness who Violi questioned for about 45 minutes on Wednesday afternoon was then subjected to three hours of cross-examination by Flora, which directly caused the late-night session.
“None of the delays have been attributable to the commonwealth,” Violi said.
Flora countered that he has an obligation to be thorough and to represent Dula to the best of his ability and said he took Violi’s comments “as an insult.” He told Lupas that he is unable to be in court so late at night and that he would explain privately in chambers if the judge needed to hear the reason.
“I won’t do it,” Flora said. “If you want to find me in contempt, find me in contempt.”
Lupas said he had no intention of holding court in session so late in the future, but said he felt the time table the parties provided him prior to trial was not accurate.
“I wish there had been more candor with the court with how long this would take,” Lupas said, noting the lawyers told him they expected jury selection to last only a few hours when it actually took two full days.
Lupas informed the jury that the trial will not conclude at the end of the week as they were originally told. He urged jurors to make arrangements so they can return Monday to continue hearing the case.