WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- In a voice alternately steady and sobbing, William Kennedy Smith's accuser told the jury that Smith slammed her to the ground and raped her, and that when he was done, she feared for her life.
"I thought he was going to kill me," the 30-year-old Florida woman added in a surprising and dramatic 2 1/2 -hour appearance yesterday, which seemed to provide a significant lift to the prosecution.
The woman -- her testimony nationally televised, but with her face blacked out to hide her identity -- spent the afternoon on the stand recounting in detail her interactions on Easter weekend with Smith, the nephew of Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.
When she accidentally "bumped into him" at a fashionable Palm Beach bar, she said, "I really felt like I could trust him. He seemed to be an intelligent man, a likeable man . . . .
"He wanted to talk about his medical career, and I wanted to talk about my daughter," she said, referring to the medical needs her daughter had when she was born prematurely two years earlier.
She trusted Smith so much, she testified, that when he asked her to give him a ride to his home, she obliged. Indeed, she initially felt so unthreatened by Smith that when he tackled her from behind on the beach near the Kennedy compound, at first she thought he might be playing, albeit too roughly.
But she quickly realized his intent was rape, she said. Her attempts to fight him off were in vain.
Yesterday marked the first time since that weekend that the accuser has faced the accused.
After the day's testimony, Smith appeared shaken and sullen. "Obviously we saw some very sad and dramatic testimony today," he said. "I have been living with these allegations and damnable lies for eight months." The defendant, who is expected to take the stand next week, beseeched the scores of reporters here to give him a chance to defend himself.
Roy Black, Smith's lead attorney, had just 35 minutes to cross-examine the woman before the jury recessed for the day. In questions that were hard-hitting but delivered in soft tones, he once again reflected the defense's strategy of trying to paint the accuser's memory losses as calculated, and her charges as the vengeful cries of a woman spurned.
Black charged the woman had been coached in her testimony. She denied that and said any lapses in memory were because "it is very hard after 8 1/2 months to sit and recall what happened . . . the only thing I have remembered clearly from that week is Mr. Smith trying to rape me."
Earlier yesterday, the first doctor to examine the Florida woman after her alleged attack testified that the woman had deep bruises and other injuries that suggested "she had been through a traumatic event of some sort and that it was consistent with her alleged rape claim."
"She would curl up and say, 'I can't believe this could happen to me,' " testified Dr. Rebecca Prostko, who treats five to 10 sexual battery victims a week at Humana Hospital. "You'd have to be sophisticated in psychology and medical techniques to have faked every aspect of it. I didn't get that impression at all."
Black tried to break down Prostko's testimony the way he did Tuesday and yesterday with another key prosecution witness, Anne Mercer, who was at the Kennedy estate after the alleged rape on Easter weekend. Prostko, however, stood her ground as Black called into question her record-keeping skills and what he called her tendency to "exaggerate."
She also told Black that his relentless questioning was "not very fair" and asked him to consider her testimony "in context."