Editor’s Note: This story contains graphic sexual details some readers may find disturbing.
ITHACA, N.Y. — The trial for Scott Walters, a Tompkins County Sheriff’s deputy, has started this week. He is accused of raping a woman who was “physically helpless” at his Lansing residence in February 2013. In opening statements Monday, the defense and prosecution gave an overview of their cases — and at the center was whether the woman did or could consent.
Walters, 34, was originally charged in 2017 and has been indicted on three charges, two counts of first-degree rape — one as an accomplice and one that he was the principal — and one count of first-degree sexual abuse. He has denied the claims against him.
Walters was charged with rape and sexual abuse alongside another man, Matthew Pinney, whose trial was expected to take place earlier this year. However, his case was adjourned just before the trial was set to start until after Walters’ trial. On Monday, he was called to testify in Walters’ trial.
Because Walters is a Tompkins County deputy, Schuyler County District Attorney Joseph Fazzary has been assigned as special prosecutor, something that was challenged but eventually upheld.
Walters has been on paid administrative leave since the charges were filed in December 2017, according to Sheriff Derek Osborne. He added, “our union contract requires members to be paid while on administrative leave.”
After a jury was selected Friday, Fazzary and Defense Attorney Veronica Gorman gave opening statements Monday morning in Tompkins County Court.
Prosecution: ‘All of a sudden she can’t feel her legs. She can’t talk’
Fazzary in opening statements outlined some of the evidence and testimony the jury would hear during the trial and gave an overview of what allegedly happened the night the woman told police she was raped and possibly drugged. He said this is not a case of forcible rape, where the victim was physically overpowered, but that she was physically helpless “such that she couldn’t say yes or no to the sex that occurred.”
She went to the Crossroads Bar in Lansing sometime after 9 p.m., Fazzary said, where she met up with a friend, who ended up leaving before her. Matthew Pinney was at the bar, and so was Scott Walters. At the bar, Fazzary said she had about two drinks “over a significant period of time.” When the woman went to leave, Fazzary said Pinney asked for a ride, which she gave him. When she dropped him off, she went inside to see his new puppies. At some point, they went next door to Walters’ house, where they had more drinks, all made by Walters.
“All of a sudden she can’t feel her legs. She can’t talk. She can still hear but she realized something was going on with her body that she’s not used to,” Fazzary said. From that point, he said the woman has “snapshot memories” of what happened to her.
Pinney was the second witness called to testify Monday, following testimony from the woman’s then-husband.
Though Pinney has previously given statements to police and said in sworn testimony that he had consensual sex with the woman, he said Monday that he had lied. He said he had also lied that she was flirtatious. During testimony Monday, Pinney said he was trying to protect himself. He also admitted to trying to pay the woman money, about $10-$15,000 he said, to not testify, which she did not accept.
In exchange for testifying at Walters’ trial, Pinney is receiving a plea bargain, Fazzary said. Instead of facing a felony charge of first-degree rape, he will plead guilty to two misdemeanors, Pinney said.
During testimony Monday, Pinney said he got a ride to the Crossroads Bar in Lansing and recognized the woman and Walters there. He said he had “quite a few” drinks and “had a pretty good buzz on.” He said near closing time, around 1 a.m., he asked the woman for a ride home and she agreed since they live close. Fazzary asked Pinney, “At that time, did you have a hope or a desire?” He replied, “Yeah I was hoping to get her home and have sex with her.”
When they got to Pinney’s house, he said, his dog just had puppies so he invited her in to see them. They were there about 20 minutes, Pinney said, when Walters called and invited them to his house which was next door. There, Pinney said, they hung around and had some mixed drinks made by Walters, including a “creamsicle” one he said Walters retrieved from the refrigerator for the woman. Sometime after that, he said, the woman appeared to get “woozy” and was “becoming out of it.” He said she wasn’t talking and “wasn’t really doing anything.” He said Walters took her to the bedroom and he followed. He said Walters was on the bed but he doesn’t remember what he was doing.
Pinney then said he had “sexual intercourse” with her. Asked “Did she ask you to do that?” by Fazzary, Pinney said, “No.” He said he didn’t ejaculate and “got weirded out by the situation” and didn’t want to be there anymore so he left. When he went back to his house, he said, he saw her ex-husband – they were married at the time – leave their house across the street and called Walters to let him know that her husband was out looking for her.
During testimony, her ex-husband said he woke up around 4:45 a.m. Feb. 2, and after not seeing his wife in bed, drove to her friend’s house that she had gone out with first to see if she was there, before checking the Crossroads Bar and a gas station. He eventually got a call from Walters asking if he knew where his wife was. When he said he didn’t, Walters allegedly told him that she was passed out in Pinney’s driveway. Her ex-husband testified that when he found her, she was a “wreck.” He said she was hanging out of the car in the driver’s seat puking and her hair and pants were wet. He said she couldn’t communicate or move. When got her home and undressed her, he said he noticed that her underwear was inside out.
He said he had a conversation with Walters, though he couldn’t recall specific details. When Fazzary asked if Walters had mentioned he was drinking with his wife, he said no and didn’t indicate she had been at his house at all. Walters helped drive one of the cars back, the ex-husband testified. Fazzary asked her ex-husband if he had ever seen his wife in that condition before, and he said, “No.”
‘We should talk about the elephant in the room’
During opening statements, Defense Attorney Veronica Gorman representing Walters said he had no idea he was being investigated for the incident until he got a knock on the door by New York State Police investigators in October 2017. She said he was surprised because he had lived across the street and had minimal but “neighborly” contact after the night in 2013. She said they also remained Facebook friends. She said the jury will have to determine if the woman was “physically helpless” and how that was communicated to Walters.
“Keep in mind, in no statement or testimony does … she ever say that Scott Walters had sexual intercourse with her. She remembers Matthew Pinney having sex with her. I submit to you that’s significant. And we should talk about the elephant in the room. The three of them had a consensual threesome,” Gorman said.
She went on to say the “linchpin” in this case is consent. Going back through the story, Gorman said that at the Crossroads Bar, when Walters arrived, he saw Pinney and the woman and that she said they were flirting. She said she went back to Pinney’s house, and though the woman has testified she felt uncomfortable, Gorman said she still went into Pinney’s house and then to Walters’ house, though her house was nearby.
She said it will be up to the jury to determine whose testimony is credible in this case, including Pinney, who she said will “say whatever he needs to to get that deal.” She told the jury to take note of inconsistencies in the testimonies they will hear.
The trial continues Tuesday afternoon with further testimony from Pinney.
Featured image: Scott Walters. (Photo by Kelsey O’Connor/The Ithaca Voice)