After hearing the rock band Three Doors Down perform hits like “Kryptonite” and “Here without You” on stage at Sunfest, the now 38-year-old New York woman at the center of an alleged rape case involving an Uber driver told a jury Monday that she remembered feeling almost euphoric as she and the two other passengers in Gary Kitchings’ car raved over the performance.
It was May, on the second to last night of the annual West Palm Beach music festival, and by the time the two passengers got out of Kitchings’ 2016 Nissan, the woman said she was scrolling through the pictures in her phone from the night trying to decide which ones to post on Instagram.
Less than two hours later, she would be holding her phone again, this time as she sat naked in her bedroom closet, crying uncontrollably as she called 911 and told the operator that Kitchings had raped her.
On Monday, the Norway native testified as the first witness in the sexual battery trial for Kitchings, the now 58-year-old former “House Parent” at KidSanctuary in suburban West Palm Beach who was moonlighting as a driver for the ridesharing app when he said he and the woman had consensual sex inside her Jupiter apartment.
The woman, however, said their encounter was anything but consensual, and actually began as soon as the two were alone in Kitchings’ car after 12:30 a.m. May 7. She said that’s when Kitchings began coming on to her. She was sitting in the front seat, she said, because he’d asked her to move there earlier as he picked up and dropped off the other two passengers.
“I was getting very nervous. I was getting very nervous. I didn’t like (where) the conversation was going,” she said of Kitchings’ alleged advances. “I was just not, trying to not pay attention to him and just looking at my phone.”
She said he began to tug at her stockings, then repeated what Assistant State Attorney Marci Rex had told jurors in her opening statements moments earlier. Kitchings, the woman said, told her he had a gun under the seat, and that he would shoot her if she didn’t do exactly as he said.
It marked the start of what the woman claimed was a series of sexual assaults that started with Kitchings allegedly forcing her into a sex act in the car, urinating in her mouth, and then raping her several times in her apartment.
Rex and Assistant State Attorney Branna Coakley are asking jurors to convict Kitchings of six charges, including four counts of sexual battery and one count each of false imprisonment and burglary with assault or battery.
Assistant Public Defenders Raquel Tortora and Stephen Abruzow, on the other hand, have described the case as a “one-night stand” between two consenting adults that only turned into a criminal case when the alleged victim inexplicably decided to claim it was rape.
If Kitchings was a rapist, Tortora asked jurors in her opening statement, why would he have raped a woman who had his name, license plate and other information stored on her phone through the app, all information he knew easily could identify him?
Why would he have gone back to work immediately afterward and not gone home to shower, Tortora asked. And what would explain the inconsistencies and changes in the alleged victim’s story?
“Now I’m going to be frank with you; we’re not going to be able to tell you exactly why she came up with this story,” Tortora told jurors, listing the possible motives as regret or possibly a way to get her ex-husband to buy the Jupiter condo from her, adding: “Her story is riddled with doubt.”
The alleged victim told jurors she came to the U.S. to work as a model and now owns a line of skincare products. What they won’t get to hear is that Abruzow last year tied the same alleged victim of a similar sexual assault allegation from a year earlier in New York.
In that case, which she described in a deposition as “an online date gone wrong,” an article in the New York Post said the alleged victim was working as a prostitute specializing in sado-masochistic acts.
Testimony in the case is expected to continue today. Chief Circuit Judge Krista Marx told jurors that testimony in the case could end as early as late Wednesday but will likely go into Thursday.