Prosecutor dismisses 2 sex assault charges against lawmaker

ST. ALBANS, Vt. (AP) — A day after a Vermont lawmaker’s former aide acknowledged changing her story of his alleged sexual assaults against her in numerous instances, a prosecutor dismissed charges that could have brought suspended Sen. Norman McAllister two life sentences.

“Based on some information that came to light last evening that I’ve shared with the defense and with the court, the state is in the position to have to dismiss” the charges that were the basis of McAllister’s trial, Deputy State’s Attorney Diane Wheeler told Judge Robert Mello.

Mello then dismissed the charges and said the court would inform jurors their services would no longer be needed. McAllister, who has pleaded not guilty in the case, still faces sex-related offenses involving two other women.

It was a stunning conclusion to a trial that began Wednesday with the 21-year-old woman, who also worked at McAllister’s farm in Franklin. She told jurors of repeated forced intercourse and oral sex at the hands of the senator.

It was on cross-examination by defense lawyer David Williams that the case fell apart. He got the woman to acknowledge numerous instances in which she told strikingly different stories in her initial interviews with police, her later sworn statements in pre-trial depositions and her testimony earlier in the day to the jury.

In a frequently annoyed tone, she answered “Correct,” and “Yeah,” as Williams asked her questions like, “You told two spectacularly different stories, correct?”

Wheeler would not say what new information had come to light Wednesday evening to cause her to drop the charges. “I don’t want anything to affect any future trials,” she said.

At the request of the defense team, the court last month agreed to hear six charges against McAllister in two separate trials. Four charges — one of felony sexual assault and three of misdemeanor prohibited acts — were expected to be tried in the fall.

Wheeler asked the court to schedule a hearing in about 30 days about that trial so lawyers can address scheduling and any other issues. One of the alleged victims has since died, and defense lawyer Brooks McArthur said the defense would challenge the credibility of witnesses in those charges as well.

McAllister declined comment Thursday. The 64-year-old lawmaker from Franklin County has maintained his innocence since his arrest outside the Statehouse in Montpelier on May 7, 2015, a week before the end of last year’s legislative session.

When lawmakers returned in January, the Senate suspended McAllister, in a move unprecedented in Vermont. McAllister last month filed papers to seek re-election.

Outside the courthouse Thursday, McArthur said there was no new revelation Wednesday evening, merely a review by lawyers of the day’s testimony from a witness with big credibility problems.

“When they listened to her testimony yesterday, reviewed that testimony overnight, they realized that they were going to have a very difficult time meeting their burden,” McArthur said.

He had high praise for Wheeler’s decision. “Ms. Wheeler, who is a very, very experienced prosecutor, a very ethical prosecutor, did exactly the right thing.”