SAN RAFAEL, California (Reuters) - A 76-year-old artist told a California court on Tuesday that accused serial killer Joseph Naso raped her half a century ago in a car, in testimony that could help prosecutors show he had a long history of sexual violence.
The prosecution called the Nebraska woman to testify in the murder trial against Naso, charged with first-degree murder in the slayings of four prostitutes dating back to the 1970s. In testifying, she had to face off directly with her accused rapist, who is representing himself in his murder trial.
The silver-haired woman, wearing black glasses and bangs, appeared upset but remained composed and unshakable as Naso cross-examined her in Marin County Superior Court about the 1961 incident he called a “sexual event.”
“Isn’t it true that to justify coming home at 4 a.m. you fabricated the event as a rape?” Naso, 79, asked.
“No,” she answered, her hands firmly clasped in front of her on the witness stand. “I did not fabricate that I was raped. I was raped.”
Naso could face the death penalty if convicted of killing more than one of four women whose slayings were dubbed the “alphabet murders,” so named because the first and last name of each victim starts with the same letter in the alphabet.
Two victims, Roxene Roggasch, 18, and Carmen Colon, 22, were killed in the 1970s. Two others, Pamela Parsons, 38, and Tracy Tafoya, 31, were slain in the 1990s.
Naso boasts a penchant for photographing women in nylons and high heels but denies killing anyone.
He was arrested in 2010 after authorities searching his Nevada home found what prosecutors described as diaries of sexual assaults and a list of victim dumping grounds, along with hundreds of photographs of naked women, some of whom appeared to be dead or unconscious
The woman who testified on Tuesday had been a 24-year-old graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley in December 1961, when she met Naso at a bus stop. He offered to drive her home, and the first time he did just that, she testified.
The next night, they met at the same bus stop, and she again accepted a ride. First, she said, they stopped for 10-cent beers. She developed a headache, and Naso forced her to take at least one pill, she said.
“He forcibly pushed his finger down my mouth,” she told Deputy District Attorney Dori Ahana, who contends Naso drugged other victims before raping or trying to rape them, then killed them.
After taking the pill, the woman said she began to see stars and asked Naso to take her home, but he drove in the wrong direction. When she tried to jump out of the car, he held her down, his hand covering her mouth, nose and throat, she said.
He took her to a field, where he ripped off her skirt so forcefully that the zipper broke, and raped her, she said.
In court on Tuesday, Naso, bald and stooped in a suit and tie, asked the woman if she went voluntarily into the back seat before what he called the “sexual event.”
“I’ll call it a rape because that’s what it was,” she responded. “I was drugged. I was fearful for my life.”
“After the sexual event, did you willingly get into the front seat?” Naso asked.
“Yes,” she answered. “I did not know where I was. I’d been raped. I was fearful of you possibly killing me.”
Naso eventually drove the woman home that night. A few days later, she reported the incident to police, who arrested him. The district attorney declined to file charges.
“Isn’t it true that the case was dismissed?” Naso asked.
“The police told me that you agreed to leave town immediately,” the woman said. “It was an ordeal I didn’t want to go through. They also accused me of trying to make my boyfriend jealous. They also said it was consensual sex. But it was not.”
Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Lisa Shumaker