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Testimony opens in Vandergrift man's child-rape trial

| Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013, 12:26 a.m.

Trial started Tuesday in Westmoreland County Court for a Vandergrift man accused of raping an 11-year-old girl in 2009.

Gregory Thomas Cook Jr. of Hawthorne Street was 24 when the alleged sexual assault occurred.

He is charged with rape of a child, indecent assault on a person younger than 13, false imprisonment and corruption of a minor.

Assistant District Attorney Rebecca Lynn Calisti told the jury in her opening statement that Cook was trusted by the girl's family. But on a December evening in 2009, that changed when the girl was in the house with him alone.

Defense attorney Duke George told a jury of 10 women and two men that the girl lied and told stories to get attention. He said she didn't tell anyone about the alleged assault for almost a year. When she did, it was a counselor at an out-of-state children's home, he said.

George claimed the girl wanted to go home to leave the strict rules there. He said she also was jealous of younger siblings at home.

Girl testifies

The girl, now 15, was the first witness against Cook.

She started to cry when she pointed at Cook as the man who assaulted her.

She said her parents didn't want her to go with Cook that night, “but he kept pleading,” she testified. Cook said his father was going to visit him and he needed his house cleaned up.

The girl testified she fought him, “screaming and kicking.” The nearly 300-pound man pulled her into the bedroom, threw her on the bed, and used duct tape and a pillow to silence her screams.She testified he pulled off some of her clothing and his own and raped her.“It lasted five or 10 minutes,” she testified. “It was a long time.”

The girl testified that after the assault, she slowly pulled the tape off her mouth and was allowed to get dressed.

“He told me if I ever told, that something bad would happen,” she said quietly.The girl said she was told to continue cleaning the house but 20 minutes later she left with Cook in his truck.

The girl testified he gave her money at a dollar store and she bought sunglasses, a necklace and earrings before he took her home.

After spraying her mother's perfume on her, the girl went upstairs to bed.

“I couldn't breathe. I didn't feel normal,” she testified. “I wanted to shoot myself and thought about suicide.”

The girl testified that she didn't tell anyone.

But her mother found her trying to strangle herself soon after the incident.

“I told her I was depressed,” she testified.Barbara Juneau, who was co-director of the children's home, testified that when the girl told her about the rape, she called the parents and a sexual abuse network in Pennsylvania.

Calisti asked Juneau if the girl thought that she was going home immediately. Juneau said no, and the girl didn't visit her parents for several months.

She also thought the girl would return to the school after a scheduled break, she testified, challenging George's view that the girl was acting out in a bid to go home.Calisti told Judge Al Bell and the jury that she has other witnesses to call.

George told them Cook would take the witness stand to defend himself. There will also be character witnesses, he said.

Conviction of rape of a child alone receives a mandatory 10-year prison sentence in Pennsylvania.

Attorneys said testimony could continue into Friday.

Chuck Biedka is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4711 or cbiedka@tribweb.com.

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