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Teens tell court Rigot assaulted them

News Photo by Julie Riddle Defense attorney Devin Pommerenke and Presque Isle County Prosecutor Ken Radzibon discuss how to present digital evidence to the jury in the Bismarck Township Hall in Hawks, this week the site of a sexual assault trial.

HAWKS — A now-15-year-old girl told a Presque Isle County courtroom she had just turned 12 when she was assaulted in Michael Rigot’s home in Onaway, where the girl sometimes visited to help care for Rigot’s child.

The girl described three incidents to the jury today, the second day of Rigot’s trial, the first criminal jury trial since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

Held in the large space of the Bismarck Township Hall in Hawks, the trial kept courtroom participants socially distant while examining the case against Rigot, 33, who is accused of sexually assaulting two minor girls who helped watch his young son between late 2016 and 2017.

The News does not name alleged victims of sexual assault.

During the first attack, the 14-year-old told the courtroom, Rigot offered her marijuana — the first time she smoked it, she said — and then pushed her down on a couch, pulling down her pants and undergarments.

News Photo by Julie Riddle Defendant Michael Rigot waits today while attorneys settle matters during his sexual assault trial being held in Hawks this week.

When she yelled at him to stop, he put his hand over her mouth and penetrated her vaginally, the girl said.

She and her father — a close friend of Rigot’s — later moved into Rigot’s house for several months, where, she said, Rigot raped her again in a stairwell. During a separate incident, in a basement laundry room, he rubbed his genitalia against her face and mouth, the girl told the jury.

She didn’t tell anyone about the incidents at the time because he had told her she’d get into trouble if she did, she said.

“He told me it was OK,” the girl told the court, “that men did this to little girls all the time.”

The girl’s father, from a stacking chair that served as a witness stand in the makeshift courtroom, told the jury he was suspicious when Rigot and the girl — who had been “hanging out” together often — were in the basement together on one occasion.

News Photo by Julie Riddle Attorneys receive help trying to make a laptop project images for the jury during the trial of Michael Rigot in Hawks today. The projections were not used during Wednesday’s testimony.

He snuck downstairs, he recounted, but a stair creaked before he reached the bottom. He rounded a corner and saw Rigot, who was with the girl in the laundry room, moving into a crouching position with his arms partially covering his groin area, saying his stomach hurt.

According to the father, at one point, Rigot sent him threatening texts complaining that the girl was telling people they’d had sex.

The girl, at least once, returned from Rigot’s home high on marijuana, the father said. He said Rigot sold the drug to many adults and children in the area.

When the father struggled to remember several dates, defense attorney Devin Pommerenke asked if he had memory problems that would affect his recollection of the incident in the basement.

“That’s not something you forget, when it’s your baby girl,” the father said furiously, glaring at the defendant.

The second girl, now 17, testified tearfully today that, in August 2017, she began a sexual relationship with Rigot that lasted several months, including during occasions when she was babysitting his child.

At the time, she said, the intimacy with him didn’t make her uncomfortable, although some of the sexual activities he suggested did.

The encounters took place in a cemetery and in and around Rigot’s home, she testified.

A field agent for the Michigan Department of Corrections testified about a review of several electronic devices owned by family members of one of the alleged victims, which appeared to sometimes be used by one of the girls.

The agent said one device contained an internet search history including two links to pornography sites containing references to babysitters, but he could not confirm who had searched for the videos.

Following a lunch break, Judge Aaron Gauther chastised the attorneys for keeping the jury waiting while they worked out logistics of presenting evidence in the makeshift courtroom.

He showed surprise that the defense intended to introduce a computer disk containing 10,000 pages of information into evidence. Information on a disk is useless to a jury who can’t view it, Gauthier said — as would be 10,000 pages of material.

Both minors testified with a support person seated next to them, over the objection of the defense, who said the presence of such a person might bias the jury to more readily believe the witness.

Citing the constitutional rights of the defendant, Gauthier denied a request by Presque Isle County Prosecutor Ken Radzibon to place a one-way screen between the alleged victims and the defendant to make the experience less traumatic.

The constitutional rights of the defendant supersede even the discomfort of a minor witness, Gauthier said. The right to look one’s accuser in the eye is a fundamental right granted by the American court system, he said, and may prevent a false accusation.

It’s easier to lie behind someone’s back than to their face, Gautheir said.

The judge also rejected a motion by Radzibon to remove a relative of Rigot’s from the courtroom because of concerns the woman would make the witnesses nervous or share information with her husband, who is a witness for the defense.

The trial will resume Thursday with final witnesses for the prosecution in the morning. The defense will begin to make their case Thursday afternoon, with the jury expected to be sent for deliberation sometime Friday.

CORRECTION: The girls who said Michael Rigot assaulted them are 15 and 17 years old. That information was incorrect in an earlier version of this story.

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