By Jean Cole
A 16-year-old Elkmont girl testified Tuesday that her grandfather raped her three times and tried to silence her with threats and cash in 2009.
The girl, whose name The News Courier withheld because she is a minor, took the stand Tuesday afternoon in Limestone County Circuit Court in the trial of Austin Nichols Jr., 57, of 26821 Clem Road, who is charged with three counts of first-degree rape.
Testimony will continue today, and defense attorney Garry Clem of Athens said Nichols would testify at some point during the trial. Assistant District Attorney Jim Ayers is prosecuting and Circuit Judge Jimmy Woodroof Jr. is presiding over the trial.
A 12-member jury with one alternate, including nine women and four men, was selected Tuesday morning, and testimony began Tuesday afternoon.
Following opening arguments by the prosecution and then the defense, the witness was the first and only witness to testify Tuesday before Judge Woodroof recessed for the day.
She began by stating she lived most of her life with her grandparents, her father and her uncle at the Clem Road mobile home after her parents had divorced. She said that although her mother lived four trailers down from her grandparents home, she was not close to her but still talked to her on occasion.
She said she was 13 when Nichols began making comments of a sexual nature to her.
“I started developing breasts, and he would walk up to me and say, ‘Your breasts are getting bigger, they are looking nice,’” the witness testified.
She said he then began leaving her handwritten notes that read, “$20 for a blow job" and "$20 to sleep with you.”
Shortly thereafter, the witness said Nichols surprised her when she was about to enter the laundry room, where she had gone to retrieve clothes from the dryer. She said she found him standing in front of the clothes washer with his pants unzipped, holding his exposed penis in his left hand, pulling up the tail of his purple football T-shirt with his right hand and saying, “Do you want it?’”
The witness said, at the time, she had her pink Razor cellphone in her hand because she was using it to listen to music, so she snapped a picture of her grandfather exposing himself to her. She also said he told her not to show it to anyone.
Over the objection of the defense, Woodroof allowed an approximate 2-by-3-foot enlargement of the photograph to be entered into evidence and placed on an easel facing the jury.
The witness said Limestone County Sheriff’s Investigator Johnny Morell, who removed the photo from the phone to preserve as evidence, told her the photo was taken July 21, 2009.
When asked by Ayers why she snapped the photo, she said, “My dad always told me a picture is worth a thousand words, and I didn’t think no one would believe me.”
She testified that about two weeks after the photo was taken, she was lying on the couch in the living room watching television when Nichols raped her. Her father, who was a professional wrestler, was in the hospital at the time undergoing treatment for blood clots and her grandmother and uncle had gone to Jasper to gamble.
“He come in from the kitchen side of the dining room and got on top of me and pinned me,” she said. She said he pulled her shorts down below her knees and raped her.
“I said, “No. No. Please stop, pa pa. Don’t do this to me.”
The alleged witness, who was 14 at the time, said she was kicking and trying to stop Nichols but he continued. She said it was the first time she had had sexual intercourse.
She said she ran to the bathroom, sat on the toilet and noticed blood on the napkin she used.
When she exited the bathroom, she said Nichols handed her money and warned her not to tell.
“He gave me $20 and told me not to tell, or we would both get in trouble and go to jail and I would never get to see my dad again.”
She said she went to her room and shut the door. She said she was crying and was scared.
About one month later, she said she was getting ready for bed and was taking a shower when Nichols entered the bathroom, drew back the shower curtain, grabbed her, pushed her to the floor and raped her again. After he left the bathroom, she said she put on her clothes and exited the bathroom. Again, she said, Nichols handed her $20 and told her not to tell anyone or they would both get in trouble and she would not be able to see her dad anymore.
After each rape, she said Nichols continued to give her $20 a week while warning her not to speak about the alleged incidents. She said when her dad asked her where she was getting money; she lied and told him she earned it doing dishes.
The witness testified that on a third occasion, after she had fallen asleep on top of her bed, her grandfather entered her room, pulled down her shorts and raped her. She said she kicked but could not overpower him and that he held his hand over her mouth to silence her.
She testified that each time she was raped, there was no one home except for her grandfather. She said she knew the family had gone gambling when the first alleged rape occurred but she could not say for certain where they were on the other two occasions, though she surmised they were gambling. She said she would sometimes move her dresser in front of her bedroom door when she was home to prevent her grandfather from entering. The next day, she said Nichols gave her $20 and warned her again.
Sometime after the third alleged rape occurred — although she could not pinpoint the day — the witness said she decided to tell her mother. She sent her mother a text message via her cellphone stating she needed to speak to her and asked if she could pick her up at home. The witness testified that when she told her mom about the alleged rapes, her mother said, “I knew it,” followed by, “get in the car, we are going to the sheriff’s office.”
The witness said two investigators interviewed her, including Leslie Ramsey, and then she moved in with her mother later that day.
Defense questions witness
On cross-examination, Clem questioned why the witness did not tell her father, mother or another adult when her grandfather allegedly exposed himself to her since she had the evidence on her cellphone. The witness said she was too scared at the time and she believed what her grandfather had told her regarding them both being put in jail and her being unable to see her father.
“I was 14 at the time and I believed what he told me,” she said.
“You didn’t believed all that he told you because you finally told your mother,” Clem said. “I told because I finally had enough,” she said.
Clem questioned why, after the first alleged rape, the witness did not simply go elsewhere once she realized she was home alone with Nichols, either to her mother’s home, a friend’s home or a neighbor’s home. The witness said she had no money and no car in which to leave. When Clem pointed out that her mother lived only four trailers down from her grandparents’ home, the witness said her mother and her mother’s boyfriend “worked all the time” and were not home. She said she did not tell a school counselor because she was afraid.
Clem also questioned the witness in detail about the events of each alleged rape. For example, in the second alleged rape, Clem asked her to describe how Nichols got her to the floor of the bathroom, and she demonstrated by putting her hands on either side of Clem’s torso. Clem also questioned whether Nichols placed cash on the kitchen counter and she picked up the money or whether Nichols actually placed money in her hand. The witness said her grandfather handed her the money in each case.
Several times, Clem questioned the witness as to why she could not recall specific dates of the incidents and the witness said it was because it was two years ago. When he asked her why she did not undergo a medical exam following the alleged rapes, she said she was told it had been too long from the time of the last incident and her reporting the incident to collect DNA evidence.
Clem said after the testimony that he would call several rebuttal witnesses today.
Meanwhile, the prosecution will call Ramsey, Morell and members of the witness’s family, District Attorney Brian Jones said.