The woman has carried a lot of labels in her life, prosecutor Kim D’Avignon told jurors Tuesday.
D’Avignon listed them off: Mentally ill. Drug addict. At times, homeless. Previous sexual assault victim. Crazy.
But D’Avignon said Steven Ashley created a new label for the woman when she was hospitalized at John Peter Smith’s in-patient psychiatric unit after a suicide attempt in February 2016.
“The perfect victim,” D’Avignon told jurors. “... Because who’s going to believe (the woman)? You can’t believe her. She’s crazy.”
Ashley, 47, is on trial in the 297th District Court this week, accused of sexually assaulting the 30-year-old woman in the bathroom of her Trinity Springs Pavilion room. Ashley worked at the facility as a patient care technician.
The woman, now 33, testified Tuesday afternoon that Ashley pushed her into the bathroom on three occasions and that she gave him oral sex each time to prevent him from having vaginal sex with her.
She said she initially kept silent about what happened but eventually broke down and told a crisis respite unit representative on Feb. 15, 2016, the day she was to be discharged.
D’Avignon told jurors in opening statements that the woman wasn’t initially believed.
“Four days after she reported it, JPS sent her a letter that said, ‘We’re sorry your stay wasn’t so great but we find your claims unsubstantiated,’” D’Avignon said.
But, D’Avignon said, results from a sexual assault examination would reveal the next month that the woman was telling the truth when Ashley’s semen was found on one of the swab samples taken from the woman’s body.
Ashley looked at jurors Tuesday afternoon as he pleaded not guilty to the three counts for which he stands accused. His defense attorney did not give an opening statement Tuesday.
The woman told jurors that she’d taken an overdose of Zoloft, an anti-depressant drug, in February 2016 after arguing with her grandparents and being told she’d have to move out.
When she told her grandparents and children what she’d done, her grandparents called police, and she was taken to the psychiatric ward of John Peter Smith Hospital.
The woman said she later met Ashley while she was a patient at Trinity Springs Pavilion, the in-patient unit next door to the hospital.
“He was very kind, very charming person,” she testified. “He seemed attentive to all my needs. He was always checking up on me.”
Because she didn’t have a lot of support in her life, the woman told jurors, “I felt special, and I felt well taken care of.”
But, the woman testified, Ashley soon crossed the line. He visited her room frequently, asking for a hug, then later a kiss on the cheek and later, on the mouth.
“Things were progressing to the point where I was uncomfortable rapidly,” she said.
She said Ashley pushed her into the bathroom, outside of the view of the hospital’s cameras, where he groped her and tried to put his hands down her pants. She said she pushed his hands away, saying she didn’t want them to get in trouble and that things had gone too far, but he told her that he’d want to date her even if she wasn’t a patient there.
Not wanting him to penetrate her, she said, she relented in giving him oral sex.
“I knew he wasn’t going to stop until he finished because I’ve been assaulted in the past before,” she testified.
But the woman said Ashley kept coming back, sexually assaulting her on two other occasions.
She said she did not tell anyone until being questioned by a crisis respite member.
“I was asked if I had been sexually assaulted in the past,” she testified. “I broke down crying and said, ‘It never ends.’”
She said that after she told the crisis respite member about what he’d done, Ashley seemed to stalk her as she waited to get her sexual assault examination. She said she was terrified when hospital employees left her in a wheelchair, where Ashley had access to her, while the employees went to have lunch.
“Everywhere I went, he was there saying, ‘Please don’t tell,’” the woman told jurors.
On cross examination, defense attorney Ray Jackson focused many of his questions on the woman’s drug abuse and indicated she had reportedly taken meth just prior to her hospitalization — something she denied. He also questioned whether the woman was really trying to commit suicide since she told her grandparents she had taken the pills, knowing they’d get her help.
“I wanted to really die,” she answered.
But the woman’s testimony soon became rambling as she talked about how she believed God saved her from death that day. When Jackson asked more about that, the woman testified that she was awakened in JPS by the voice of the angel Gabriel, who gave her a new name, Abrael.
“God told me he was going to use me for a work for the United States of America,” she testified.
Under Jackson’s questions, the woman testified that she believes God gave her a word of prophecy and that she’s being used as a tool because federal agents are invading Jesus’ airspace.
“I’m sorry that sounds insane but that’s what I’ve been working on,” she testified. “... I wouldn’t lie to no jury, and I wouldn’t lie to Jesus, either.”
The woman said she hadn’t discussed prophetic or religious matters when she talked to officials about what Ashley had done to her.