The lawyer for the woman accused of stalking a D.C. magistrate judge began presenting her defense today, fighting allegations that she broke into her former girlfriend's house by offering witnesses who testified that the two had lived together.
The issue of whether the defendant, Taylar Nuevelle, and her alleged victim, Judge Janet Albert, shared a home will be a key question for the D.C. Superior Court jury, as it considers charges that Nuevelle forced her way into Albert’s residence in order to harass her after their relationship imploded. Defense lawyer Dorsey Jones Jr. has said that Nuevelle was simply trying to retrieve property from the house.
Jones invited a handful of Nuevelle’s friends, neighbors, co-workers and family to the stand, where they told the jury that Nuevelle and Albert appeared to be living together when they broke up in September 2008. Albert herself testified earlier in the case that Nuevelle spent anywhere from two to five days a week staying at her Northwest Washington house, but maintained that they were not formally living together.
Among the defense witnesses, one longtime friend testified that Nuevelle told her she continued renting her Kenyon Street apartment to use it as a home office, and as a place to keep her cat, to which Albert was allergic. Nuevelle’s brother told the jury that he had visited his sister four or five times at Albert’s home, and saw her less often at her old apartment while she dated the judge. One of Nuevelle’s former co-workers at the Atlas Performing Arts Center said he had seen Nuevelle go in and out of Albert’s house with a set of keys (Albert testified that she lent Nuevelle keys occasionally and always asked for them back).
Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Brenowitz kept most of her cross-examination brief, repeatedly asking the witnesses about their close relationships with Nuevelle and whether they knew that where she had lived was important to the case.
The most dramatic moment of the day may have come during the cross examination of Cheranne Bennett, who was identified as a long-time friend and current romantic partner of Nuevelle. Bennett told the jury that, although Nuevelle still rented her own apartment, it seemed as if she was spending almost all of her time with Albert.
Brenowitz keyed in on Bennett’s relationship with Nuevelle, asking whether the two had discussed the case (they had discussed the circumstances around it, Bennett said). Then, in a tense exchange, the prosecutor suggested it was “emotionally important” for Nuevelle to believe that she and the judge had been sharing a life.
“You know that it is important to her because she needs to believe she was in a serious relationship with Ms. Albert, correct?” the prosecutor asked Bennett.
“That’s a bad question. I don’t understand that,” Bennett said, seemingly defensive.
“You know that it’s important to her to believe that she was in a domestic partnership with Ms. Albert and co-parenting her child, correct?” the prosecutor continued.
“Those things are true!” Bennett said, finally.
At another point in the cross examination, Bennett admitted that she had told the grand jury that Nuevelle had entered Albert’s house through a window, in part to get an unsent letter that the judge had written to another former lover. Bennett added, however, that the letter was not the sole reason Nuevelle went to the house.
The trial continues tomorrow at 11 a.m.