A man charged in a high-profile sexual assault case has gone on trial in Lamoille County Superior Court in Hyde Park.
The case of Robert Rosario, 34, made national news because police and court officials initially tried to hide the fact that a sexual assault had occurred inside a state courthouse bathroom on Oct. 15, 2015. Not even workers at the Edward J. Costello Courthouse in Burlington were informed of the assault.
Detectives with the Chittenden Unit for Special Investigations tried to find the suspect for about a week, but the Burlington Free Press broke the story about the attack on the woman using public records on file in the court clerk’s office.
Within 24 hours after the public was alerted to the crime, police got a tip about the suspect and he was arrested in New York.
Police had made no public appeals or resources such as Crime Stoppers to field tips about Rosario’s whereabouts.
Rosario has pleaded not guilty to a single count of sexual assault.
In his opening statement, defense lawyer Robert W. Katims of Burlington said there was consent between his client, Rosario, and the 41-year-old Essex woman.
The prosecution maintains there was no consent and Rosario forced himself onto the woman, who testified Tuesday.
The case was referred to the Vermont Attorney General’s Office for prosecution because there are potential witnesses who work in the Chittenden County State’s Attorney’s Office.
Longtime Judge Dennis Pearson is presiding over the trial, which is expected to last about a week.
The trial was moved out of the Costello Courthouse because it was the scene of the crime, officials said. It is Vermont’s busiest courthouse and home to hearings for criminal, family and environmental courts and the Vermont Judicial Bureau. There are also offices for the Vermont Corrections Department, the Chittenden County State’s Attorney’s Office and the Vermont Office of Child Support; there’s also a cafe.
The woman had been at the courthouse for a meeting. She reported the incident happened in a second-floor women’s bathroom, across the hall from a courtroom and the court clerk’s office. The building has about a dozen security guards and court officers and some security cameras. Police from throughout Chittenden County are frequently in the building for hearings and meetings.
After the woman reported the sexual assault, supervisors never told some state employees, including court staff members. Union members filed complaints with the Vermont State Employees Association after they learned about the incident from news reports.
Burlington police didn’t even inform Mayor Miro Weinberger about the sexual assault complaint for more than six days.
The decision to keep the sexual assault under wraps came as a shock to some because Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo, who’d been sworn in a few weeks earlier, had pledged transparency in his administration. He said he supported the detectives’ decision not to tell the public about what happened at the public courthouse.
Once the Free Press reported the incident, TV stations began asking for information and eventually a news conference was called to discuss the sexual assault report and to try to defend withholding information from the public.