Ithaca, N.Y. — In its closing statement, the defense for former Cornell student Peter Mesko said the victim’s reaction to the reported attack shows she was not raped.

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The Tompkins County Assistant District Attorney criticized that argument as ludicrous in her closing statement.

“Here’s a newsflash: There is no manual for when you have been sexually assaulted,” said Wendy Franklin, the ADA in the case, in Tompkins County Court Tuesday morning. “…There is a need to feel safe again; there is a need to feel protected; there is a need to get back what you have had taken from you.”

Mesko is facing charges of first-degree rape, sexual abuse and burglary. Twelve jurors have listened to witness testimony for several days and both the prosecution and defense have rested.

ADA Wendy Franklin holds up a photo of Peter Mesko submitted as evidence in the trial. (Jeff Stein/Ithaca Voice)

After the alleged attack at around 5 a.m., the victim and her girlfriend — who was also in bed — ran upstairs. The victim’s girlfriend returned downstairs to take a picture of Mesko.

A few hours later, the victim had contacted both the advocacy center for victims and Cornell’s Gannett Health Center, and then she went to the Cayuga Medical Center for a medical evaluation.

The defense questioned why the victim didn’t do more. “To involve others, to scream out for help, to call for police … all of those things, those are all absent here,” said defense attorney William Dreyer.

But the prosecution disputed this on a number of fronts. Franklin, the ADA, said the victim had sought help and worked to get evidence of the suspect amid a horrifying, traumatic experience.

“She was able to find out who to contact and what to do … when everything you thought was safe and secure is gone, you never know how you’re going to react. And quite frankly there was nothing wrong with how (the victim) reacted,” she said.

Franklin raised her voice, listing all the things the victim and her roommate did after the attack that show that the victim had in fact been raped.

“And after all of that, all of that! They then went to the police station where they had to give statements about that and relive it again, and again, and again, but somehow you’re not supposed to believe (the victim) because she didn’t pick up the phone the second after it happened and call 911?,” she said. “That ladies and gentleman is unrealistic for someone who has been traumatized.”

Franklin noted that both sides agree that Mesko and the victim did not know each other before the attack. She questioned why the victim — who was identified by name in court but will not be named here — would have lied in court that she had been raped, under oath, the ADA said.

“It’s not like a fly just went by. It’s, ‘I’m waking up and there’s a stranger’s penis inside of me,’” the ADA said.

“Does anyone think this trial was fun for (the victim)? … She had to relive that violation in front of a room of total strangers and talk about being sexually assaulted.”

The defense had pointed to a lack of DNA evidence connecting Mesko to the crime.

ADA Franklin made a number of points disputing that argument:

1 — There was evidence of male DNA on the victim, found on her bra and underwear, but not enough to test to link it to Mesko. The victim said she hadn’t had contact with any other male and that it must have been Mesko’s, according to Franklin.

2 — The forensic nurse at the hospital testified that she did not conduct a more invasive search of the victim because the victim appeared to be in too much pain.

3 — There’s the photographic evidence of Mesko in the victim’s bed. Mesko was seen masturbating in the bed, according to Franklin, which may explain the lack of seminal evidence found on the victim.

“Modern forensic science is a useful aid but no more than that — it doesn’t substitute for all of the evidence in the case,” Franklin said.

Franklin called on the jurors to use their “common sense.”

“The pieces fit in this puzzle,” Franklin said, “and they give you a picture of a man who raped, sexually abused and went into the room he had no permission to because he was going to commit those crimes.”

We’ll post the jury’s verdict when it is known.


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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.