ATHENS, Ga. - A 69-year-old victim of a 1996 home invasion rape who recounted her ordeal Monday to a Clarke County jury was unable to identify with certainty the suspect seated in the courtroom as her attacker.
The rape trial of 45-year-old Poneil Carruth began Monday with the selection of a jury of four men and eight women to hear evidence in four rapes that occurred during a six-week period between late May and mid-July 1996.
The first victim to testify took the witness stand exactly four years to the day after the attack, answering prosecution and defense questions with a calm, composed demeanor.The woman testified she had fallen asleep watching television in the Franklin Street home where she lived alone. When she awoke - at about 3 a.m. on July 10, 1996 - she opened her bedroom window just enough to let her cat back into the house. All the other windows in the house were bolted, she said.
The woman recounted how a shirtless man quickly slid through the window and into her bedroom, where she lay on the bed reading.
"I began to scream in the vain hope that I would be heard by a neighbor, but I wasn't," she said. "He jumped on the bed and began to strangle me."
The man demanded money, and when the woman could only come up with $20 in cash, he said angrily, "you must have money hidden all over this house," she testified.
He ordered the woman to take off her clothes, turned off the lights in the room and raped her, she said. After scouring the home for valuables, he left through the same window, telling her "you shouldn't have had your window open," she testified. A telephone line to the house was cut, and the woman went to a neighbor's home to call police.
Assistant District Attorney Gerald Brown asked the woman if she recognized the rapist in the courtroom, a question that brought on a long pause.
After several seconds, the victim released a deep sigh and said, "I cannot say that I would definitely recognize him. It's been four years, and I really don't know if this person looks like him."
Mr. Carruth is accused of raping four women in two daylight abductions and two home invasion rapes. He was arrested in January while in the Clarke County jail on an unrelated burglary charge. Authorities said a fingerprint match led investigators to secure a search warrant for Mr. Carruth's blood, which they used for DNA comparison. Authorities say Mr. Carruth's DNA - a genetic fingerprint found in body fluid and tissue - matches DNA evidence taken from all four rapes.
"This is, deep down, not a very complicated case," Mr. Brown told the jury in his opening statement. "... This case comes down to the victims testifying to you what happened to them. It comes down to the evidence."Defense attorney Jo Carol Nesset-Sale of the University of Georgia Legal Aid and Defender Clinic told the jury in her opening statement that she would not dispute that four women were raped in the spring and summer of 1996.
"You're going to hear from four women who all suffered the indignity and the horror of being raped," she said. "You're going to have to decide whether all four women were raped by one man, or by different men."