Accuser in Smith case describes alleged rape

December 05, 1991|By David Margolick | David Margolick,New York Times News Service

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Choking back tears, the 30-year-old Florida woman who has accused William K. Smith of raping her on the front lawn of the Kennedy compound took the witness stand yesterday and offered her anguished recollections of that night.

Referring to him first as "Mr. Smith" and later simply as "that man," she recalled how the defendant changed from what she described as a "gentle" and "interesting" man she had met at the nightspot Au Bar a few hours earlier into a kind of fiend who knocked her to the ground, forced himself on her and flippantly told her afterward that if she ever accused him of rape, no one would ever believe her.

During the rape, she said, and later when they encountered each other in the Kennedy home, "I thought he was going to kill me."

Late in the afternoon, Mr. Smith's chief defense lawyer, Roy E. Black of Miami, began his cross-examination, which will continue today.

The woman remained composed, even steely, through much of her testimony. Only when she began recounting how Mr. Smith removed his clothes for a swim, frightening her into running away, did her voice begin to break. For the rest of her direct examination she wiped her eyes, sniffled and paused repeatedly, looked down and took frequent deep breaths before moving on.

Mr. Smith ran after her, she said, and tackled her. "He had me on the ground and I was trying to get out from underneath of him, 'cause he was crushing me," the woman testified. "And he had my arm pinned. And I was yelling, 'No!' and then 'Stop!'

"And I tried to arch my back to get him off me, and he slammed me back on the ground . . . and then he pushed my dress up and he raped me."

For the most part, the woman looked directly at the prosecutor questioning her, Assistant State Attorney Moira K. Lasch. Occasionally she looked at the jury. Only once, when she began describing how Mr. Smith began chasing her, did she look directly at Mr. Smith.

Mr. Smith either watched her without expression or, at particularly emotional moments, took notes. Two of his aunts, Ethel Kennedy and Eunice Kennedy Shriver, looked down or fidgeted nervously.

The woman's testimony lasted about two hours. Then Mr. Black, seeking to undermine her credibility, asked her insistently about inconsistencies in her account.

She frequently replied that, given the trauma she had suffered, she had trouble remembering less important details. "The only thing I can remember about that week," she said, "is Mr. Smith raping me."

Mr. Black said sharply, "I know you've been prepared to say that."

She replied, "I've not been prepared to say anything."

The accuser identified herself in a soft voice, leading Ms. Lasch to request that the microphone be turned up. But the woman's voice gradually strengthened as she got into her account of the March evening when she accompanied friends to Au Bar for a nightcap.

There, she said, she turned a corner and "bumped into" Mr. Smith. She said that she was embarrassed by the accident and that they struck up a conversation and introduced themselves. Before long, he had asked her to dance, she said.

"He was a very nice man," the woman said.

While dancing and afterward, she said, they discussed music, his medical schooling and her 2-year-old daughter's medical problems.

He also introduced her to his uncle, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., and to his cousin Patrick, the senator's son.

Repeating a refrain that was to occur again and again in her examination, the prosecutor asked if Mr. Smith had discussed anything sexual with her. She said he had not.

"Oh no," she replied with a sigh. "I really felt like I could trust him. He seemed to be an intelligent man, a likable man."

The prosecutor asked, "Did he ever indicate to you in any way that he expected you to have sex with him?"

She replied: "No, one of the reasons I felt at ease with him is during our dancing he'd never laid one hand on me. He had never done anything suggestive at all."

After a while, she said, the lights in the bar came on, and she suddenly realized how late it was: 3 in the morning. "I said, 'It's been nice to meet you, but I have to go,' " she said. At that point, Smith looked around the room "and told me his uncle was not there and he asked me if I could give him a ride home."

They pulled into the parking lot where, she testified, Mr. Smith gave her a perfunctory good-night kiss and got out. That suited her, she said, because she was anxious to get home.

Instead, Mr. Smith walked to the driver's side and asked her if she would like to see the house, the woman said. She agreed. When Mr. Smith invited her to take a walk on the beach, she consented.

Mrs. Lasch asked why she had gone. "I was enjoying his company," she said.

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