Accuser testifies in trial of Duluth doctor
A 43-year-old preschool teacher told a Dunn County jury Monday that a Duluth doctor sexually violated her on a boat at Barker's Island Marina in 2006.
It was the first day in the trial of Dr. Javier De La Garza, who is charged with third-degree sexual assault for allegedly having sexual intercourse with the teacher without her consent. The woman said she was a patient of De La Garza and she invited him to her parents' boat after he said he would like to see it.
The teacher, who is the married mother of two children, testified that she initially thought De La Garza was a caring doctor who was able to give her some immediate relief from her stomach problems. "I thought he was nice," she said. "I thought he cared because he called all the time to check on me."
The woman testified that she became increasingly uncomfortable when the doctor asked her to remove her clothes below the waist during examinations. She said he began inserting his fingers into her vagina without wearing gloves. She said he told her he was checking her lymph nodes, or checking her ovaries, or checking for cancer.
Douglas County prosecutor James Boughner asked the woman if De La Garza said anything while allegedly probing her sex organs with his fingers.
"He said, 'Bless your soul, bless your soul.' Or he would tell me what a good girl I was and we'd talk that he was having a hard time diagnosing this." She said no one else was in the room.
The teacher said she felt funny but she trusted her doctor. She said De La Garza was considering buying a boat and that's why she invited him to Barker's Island to see her parents' boat.
She said he told her he might as well perform an examination while on the boat. Her voice broke, she sobbed and her face reddened when she said she took her pants down at De La Garza's request.
The oral sex act that she described as happening next is legally defined as sexual intercourse without consent. She said she started crying and shaking.
Boughner told jurors in his opening statement that there would be no physical or medical evidence presented in the case, just the word of the alleged victim. He characterized the teacher as a good person who cared about others.
He said she asked herself, "Was I this naive? Was I this stupid? Should I have seen this coming?" She was embarrassed and didn't know what to do, the prosecutor said.
Five months later her son's girlfriend was admitted to St. Luke's hospital, where De La Garza is employed. Boughner said that out of her concern she reported to the hospital what had allegedly happened to her. She later reported it to Duluth police, who forwarded reports to Superior police.
Superior defense attorney Rick Gondik reserved making an opening statement until the state rests its case. However, while picking the jury Gondik told prospective jurors that the case is all about the teacher's quest for money from his client, "a very successful man."
Gondik said De La Garza makes a "boatload of money ... three-quarter of a million dollars a year." Gondik was critical of the work of both Duluth and Superior police. He said none of the basic evidence gathering was conducted and that he received a letter from the Duluth city attorney's office saying the lead Duluth police investigator in the case would not be available to testify in this trial.
Gondik sarcastically asked jurors to listen closely to the evidence "if you hear any," he said.
He drew a connection between a newspaper reporting De La Garza's salary in April 2007 and the woman reporting the assault two months later. The assault allegedly occurred the previous September.
"Money is the root of all evil," Gondik said.
The alleged victim and three other women have pending civil lawsuits against De La Garza. They claim the doctor engaged in harmful, offensive and illegal sexual contact with them with no reasonable medical purpose.
The woman will retake the stand today under direct examination by Boughner. Then Gondik will get his chance to question her. He told jurors it will be hard to clean out the barn without smelling like a barn when it's over.
"We're going to get down and dirty in this case," Gondik said. "Is anybody going to get angry with me because I made [the alleged victim] cry?"
Douglas County Circuit Judge Michael Lucci moved the trial here after ruling that extensive pretrial news coverage made it difficult for De La Garza to get a fair trial in Superior.