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Pollacci rape trial: Jury hears opening arguments

By MARY BROWNFIELD

Published: April 9, 2010

PEBBLE BEACH resident Tom Pollacci, 50, either raped an old acquaintance in the loft at his parents’ Pacific Grove liquor store and left her at the hospital with a head injury, or the two reunited after being out of touch for several years, had consensual sex after chatting and drinking wine in the loft, and then she fell down the stairs, sustained a severe blow to her head and was taken to the hospital by Pollacci, who was too panic-stricken to dial 911.

Those were the scenarios presented to a jury of seven women and five men during opening arguments in his trial Thursday.

Monterey County Deputy District Attorney Mike Breeden described Pollacci as a man with a pattern of raping and sexually assaulting women that goes back 30 years. He told the jury, which was sworn in Thursday morning after a selection process that took three days, that he planned to introduce the testimony of three other alleged victims, as well as the victim in this case, who was referred to as Jane Doe 5.

The first, he said, was 16 years old in 1980, and was reportedly raped on the riverbank of the Carmel River by Pollacci as a friend of his held her down. She fled, got a ride home from a gas station attendant and didn’t report it to police until Pollacci was arrested for the alleged April 2008 rape last year.

Another woman reported Pollacci came to her home when she was separated from her husband, and after they watched TV together for a while, he “took her forcibly” and then left, Breeden told the jury. “She also was confused, disoriented, angry and didn’t tell her husband, Frank, because he had a temper and she was afraid he would kill Mr. Pollacci.”

The third woman met Pollacci in the early 1990s while he was working at Ron’s Liquors, and they went on a lunch date to the California Market at the Highlands Inn. Afterward, he allegedly raped her in the parking lot, and in 1992, the allegations resulted in a plea of sexual battery. Pollacci was later required to register as a sex offender under Megan’s Law.

Finally, the woman in the present case was in town visiting her best friend in Carmel Valley and ran into Pollacci at the P.G. liquor store during a late-night cigarette run. They chatted and went their separate ways, and the next night, they ended up together again.

Jane Doe 5’s memory is hazy, Breeden told the jury, but he alleged he began to tug at her clothes, she told him to stop, and he then hit her on the head, raped her and dropped her at the emergency room. Her injuries were so severe she remained there for several days, during which she was interviewed by law enforcement on three occasions, and though she denied having sex with Pollacci, an exam determined otherwise.

Liu blamed the rush to accuse Pollacci of rape on his reputation as a man who lived with his parents and got together with a lot of women.

“This case is about embarrassment and shame, fear and panic, and how when those feelings collide, facts became distorted and foolish mistake are seen as sinister actions,” Liu said. In a small community where his family is well known, his reputation is common knowledge, and people have sided against him or with him. So when he delivered Jane Doe 5 to the ER by Pollacci, Liu said, the worst was assumed.

Pollacci and the woman had consensual sex once many years earlier, after she had been through a nasty divorce and before she moved out of state. He said they ended up in the loft of his liquor store, drinking wine and talking, on the night in question.

When she told him to stop, he did, telling her he wanted her to be there of her own free will. She stayed, they had a good time and slept together, Liu told the jury.

“Then, around 2 a.m., disaster strikes,” he said. As she was leaving the loft, she fell off the stairs, which had no railing and were described as steep, dangerous and “hellacious,” and “took a header,” Liu said.

But instead of calling 911, Pollacci panicked, thinking of the illegal living space he had upstairs.

So he called his nephew, who came to the store, saw what happened and told him to dial 911. He still refused, so they took the woman to the hospital in her car. Liu said. At the ER, Pollacci did not rush away, but stuck around for a while, locked Jane Doe 5’s purse in the trunk of her rental car and then left.

Her injuries, according to Liu, where consistent with a fall, and her body showed no physical signs of rape.

He spent little time on the other alleged victims, saying only they and their evidence will undergo tough questioning during the trial. “You will see at the end of the trial the prosecution will not have met the burden,” in proving Pollacci raped Jane Doe 5, he predicted.

The trial is expected to last three weeks