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‘Nick was my friend and I didn’t want to believe it’

3rd accuser takes the stand in Skaluba trial

Nick Skaluba

ALPENA — He was my best friend.

That is how the third of three women to testify in the sexual assault trial against Nick Skaluba described her relationship with the defendant. The woman claims Skaluba drugged and sexually assaulted her at his home in Alpena in February 2016.

Skaluba, 22, has not been charged with a crime against the woman who testified Thursday, but she was allowed to testify because her story has similarities to the stories of two other women who claim Skaluba spiked their drinks with Xanax and took advantage of them during a series of parties in July 2016.

Skaluba is charged with six criminal sexual conduct felonies over the alleged assaults of those two women, including one for using drugs to incapacitate his alleged victims. His trial began Monday in Alpena before a jury of nine women and five men.

The News does not name alleged victims of sexual assault.

On the stand Thursday, the third accuser said Skaluba had invited her to his home for drinks. She said that, during her visit, they began drinking shots and smoked some marijuana. She said she can’t remember what happened for the remainder of the night and early morning hours.

When she woke up in the morning, she didn’t feel right, and the feeling she had wasn’t like a hangover, she testified. She drove home, where she tried to piece together events from the night before. She said that, although she doesn’t remember having sex with Skaluba, she suspected something had happened. Because he was a friend, however, she initially gave him the benefit of the doubt.

Until the charges against him were filed in the summer and she heard what the other alleged victims claimed.

“Nick was my friend and I didn’t want to believe it,” she testified Thursday. “Nobody would want to believe that. I still care about him and I didn’t want to say anything. When I started hearing stories about the other girls, things started to add up for me. It struck a chord.”

The woman said she is an experienced drinker who has consumed large amounts of alcohol and drugs, including Xanax, in the past. She said during her life she has been in and out of trouble and has a reputation that isn’t stellar. She’s also been caught in lies, which she said was another reason she was leery about coming forward.

“I have had a chaotic lifestyle, but it doesn’t change what happened to me that night,” she said. “I know when I go home today I will still have this awful feeling, but I just want people to hear my story.”

The defense pushed the woman on some discrepancies in her prior statement to police and to Alpena County Prosecutor Ed Black. She said some of her recollections may be foggy, but she was doing her best to be as clear and honest as possible.

“I’m sorry if I structure my sentences wrong or my memories change,” she said. “It was a long time ago.”

Geoffrey French, forensic science supervisor of the Michigan State Police’s toxicology unit, testified Thursday that blood tests did not detect Xanax in one of the alleged victim’s systems just over 24 hours after the alleged assaults took place. He said it’s possible, however, that minute amounts of the drug could have been present but not detected because of the programming of the machines that run the tests. He said the machines are set that way to avoid false positives.

An expert witness called by the defense, Dr. Charles Simpson, who was involved in a human study of Xanax for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration before that agency allowed the drug to be prescribed, disagreed with French. He said that one Xanax pill, with a dose of as little as 0.25 milligrams, would stay in the body of a healthy 16-year-old female for 44 hours, so the blood test done at the hospital should have shown the drug in the woman’s system. He said higher dosages, such as a 2 milligram pill, would remain in the system as long as 67 hours.

He did say the symptoms the alleged victims described feeling the morning after the alleged assaults were in line with what would be expected.

Through day four of the trial, none of the witnesses have testified to seeing Skaluba put drugs in the girls’ drinks and no drugs were found at the scene.

It has also not yet been shown that Xanax was found in the blood of the alleged victims.

The trial resumes at 8:30 a.m. today before Judge George Mertz, of the 46th Circuit Court, who is presiding over the case after 26th Circuit Court Judge Michael Mack recused himself without providing reason.

Mertz has told the jury that deliberations could begin later today and could carry over into Saturday, if needed.

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