Hunter-prey or ‘drunken orgy’?

Skaluba sex assault trial begins in Alpena

Nick Skaluba

ALPENA — During opening statements on Monday, the prosecution and the defense each painted a different picture of what happened at a pair of summer 2016 parties at which a pair of sexual assaults allegedly took place.

Nick Skaluba, 22, is charged with six criminal sexual conduct charges, including one related to accusations that he drugged the alleged victims with Xanax and then took advantage of her.

Alpena County Prosecutor Ed Black compared Skaluba’s behavior to a hunter stalking its prey. He said Skaluba lured the girls to the party, fed them alcohol, and then slipped them drugs unknowingly.

“The victims were the prey and he was the hunter and on two consecutive nights he stalked them and took advantage of them,” Black said. “He looked at these girls as conquests.”

Defense Attorney Dan White said previous testimony and contents in text messages describe the parties as a haven of alcohol, drugs, and sex. Despite knowing that, the girls went to the parties and engaged in consensual sex. That sex may or may not have included Skaluba, White said.

“It was a drunken orgy, and nobody who was there knows for sure what the heck happened and what the heck they had done,” White said. “It rained alcohol on those nights and that resulted in a fog afterward.”

Before addressing the jury for the first time, White and Black needed to seat a jury. They expected that to be difficult because of the media attention the case has received and the debate it has created on social media.

Jury selection began early in the morning Monday and the final juror was selected at about 2:30 p.m. Opening statements began at about 2:45 p.m. Once the jury — roughly evenly split between men and women and of various ages –was in place in the courtroom, 46th Circuit Court Judge George Mertz ordered the jurors not to talk to friends or family about the case and not to post anything or comment about the case on any social media platform.

He instructed them to stay away from news reporting of past and current developments in the case and to refrain from talking with one another about their thoughts on the case as it unfolds.

“You will have to wait until you begin deliberations and then after the trial is over you are free to talk about it with whoever you want,” Mertz said.

Mertz is overseeing because 26th Circuit Court Michael Mack recused himself without providing a reason.

Skaluba was one of three men who have faced charges for the alleged incidents at the parties. Tommy Hein pleaded no contest to a felonious assault charge and was sentenced by Mertz to serve 90 days in jail under the Homes Youth Trainee Act, while Shane Dawson, whose parents owned the house where the parties took place, was convicted of furnishing alcohol to minors.

The trial will resume today at 8:30 a.m. in 26th Circuit Court in Alpena.

The trial and deliberations are expected to last for the duration of the week.

Steve Schulwitz can be reached at 989-358-5689 at sschulwitz@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ss_alpeanews.com.