Girls’ emotions, drug use questioned at Rigot trial

News Photo by Julie Riddle Defense attorney Devin Pommerenke and Presque Isle County Prosecutor Ken Radzibon confer today with Judge Aaron Gauthier about what testimony would be allowed at the jury trial of Michael Rigot in Presque Isle County this week.

HAWKS — Two girls reporting sexual assaults were sad and emotionally disconnected as they struggled to tell their stories, police and other officials told a jury today as the trial of Michael Rigot entered its third day at a township hall in Hawks.

Rigot, of Onaway, is accused of sexually assaulting two girls when they were 12 and 14 years old in late 2016 and 2017.

One girl said Rigot raped her in his home on several occasions. The other said she and Rigot had an ongoing sexual relationship over several months while she was 14, too young to consent to such a relationship.

Three of the 29 charges against Rigot were dropped because they were not proven by what the girls said.

Rigot denies the allegations. The News does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault.

News Photo by Julie Riddle Detective Joseph Mulka, of the Presque Isle County Sheriff’s Office, testifies today at the trial of Michael Rigot at the Bismarck Township Hall in Hawks.

The jury heard from the girls themselves on Wednesday.

Today, a former girlfriend of Rigot’s said she didn’t remember Rigot showing particular attention to younger women or girls, and was uncertain about dates on which he would have come into contact with the alleged victims. She also testified she has a diagnosed condition that affects her memory.

Two police officers and a forensic interviewer from the Child Advocacy Center testified about their interviews of the girls, who were described by each as shaken and withdrawn as they recalled the incidents.

During a Michigan State Police trooper’s interview with the younger girl — who had claimed no prior knowledge of or experience with marijuana — he noticed she was wearing a bracelet often indicative of involvement with or exposure to the drug.

People who talk to police about drug use often lie, he said, and the apparent dishonesty on that point didn’t affect his belief in the rest of her allegations, he testified.

Detective Joseph Mulka, of the Presque Isle County Sheriff’s Office, testifies today at the trial of Michael Rigot at the Bismarck Township Hall in Hawks.

Detective Joseph Mulka, of the Presque Isle County Sheriff’s Office, described an interview with Rigot, who he said accused the girls of making false claims against other men of Onaway.

No details about other such men were shared, either at the police interview or at trial.

The morning concluded with a request by the defense that the judge dismiss the case altogether because, defense attorney Devin Pommerenke contended, the alleged victims weren’t credible.

The jury will be allowed to decide for themselves whether to believe the girls, Judge Aaron Gauthier said.

“It didn’t strike me as somebody who was making up a story,” he told the attorneys.

After a lunch break, Pommerenke called one witness, a teenaged former friend of one of the alleged victims.

The friend had witnessed the younger girl receiving marijuana from her father when she was 11, before the first sexual assault the girl described to the jury.

The girl had earlier testified Rigot gave her the drug on the day he accosted her, and that that was the first time she had experience with it.

Several other witnesses subpoenaed to appear for the defense were not called to the stand.

The jury was dismissed for the day early this afternoon. The trial resumes Friday with closing statements from both sides, after which the jury will be sent for deliberation.

The trial is taking place in a makeshift courthouse in the Bismarck Township Hall, chosen as a venue because the Presque Isle County Courthouse couldn’t provide adequate space to socially distance during proceedings.

When the day’s proceedings started late after both attorneys were absent when court was supposed to begin, Gauthier gave both attorneys a stern reminder of the importance of timeliness.

“We have 14 people in there whose time we waste when we waste time,” he said, gesturing to the jury room.

The jury was excused from the courtroom numerous times today while attorneys debated what jurors should be allowed to hear witnesses say.

Testimony by the former girlfriend of Rigot’s was interrupted several times by objections as questions seemed to veer into the topic of the girlfriend’s physical relationship with the defendant.

Out of hearing of the jury, Gauthier cautioned Presque Isle County Prosecutor Ken Radzibon that any attempts to convince the jury Rigot is a bad man based on how he treats women — a point the prosecution had not proven was relevant in this case, according to the judge — would not be tolerated and could result in a mistrial.

Later, when Pommerenke objected to the prosecutor’s questions of Michigan State Police trooper Justin Lidak, Gauthier reminded the defense attorney he’d opened the door to those questions himself by his cross examination, and that attorneys can’t object just because they don’t like the answer a witness is going to give.


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