In 1994, 39-year-old George Gross was charged with sexually assaulting the daughter of his live-in girlfriend when she was between the ages of 5 and 13, in the trailer they shared in Mantua, New Jersey.
His first trial ended in a mistrial because a juror suddenly recalled being sexually molested as a child. Gross went on trial for a second time in 1998.
The complaining witness testified that Gross, on numerous occasions over an eight-year period, sexually assaulted her after her mother, who was a drug addict, went to sleep or passed out. Gross, who had no criminal record, denied sexually assaulting the alleged victim and testified that she accused him of abuse after he ordered her and her mother to leave the trailer because of the mother’s abuse of drugs, particularly methamphetamine.
In June 1998 a Gloucester County Superior Court jury convicted Gross of sexual assault and endangering the welfare of a minor and he was taken into custody. Before he was sentenced, Gross obtained a new lawyer, Yaron Helmer.
Helmer found evidence in the file of Gross’s trial lawyer that suggested the girl was lying. He filed a motion for a new trial, which was granted in May 1999. Gross was released on bond.
Gross went on trial a third time in July 2001. Helmer introduced hospital records of the alleged victim’s mother which showed that far from passing out from drug use, she had been treated repeatedly for insomnia. Records showed that the mother was a methamphetamine user and a defense expert testified that methamphetamine users stay awake for long periods of time. A neighbor testified that the mother was up at all hours of the night.
Gross’s niece, who was a friend of the complaining witness, testified that about a year after the alleged victim and her mother left the trailer at Gross’s insistence, the alleged victim called her and asked if she would pick her up and take her to Gross’s trailer because she wanted to live there. Helmer argued that this showed the complaining witness was lying because it was unlikely that a victim of sexual assault would voluntarily want to return to live with her attacker.
The prosecution called the alleged victim’s aunt to testify that the two girls were in Florida at the time of this alleged call and so it could not have happened. However, Helmer impeached the aunt with a police that showed that at the time of the call was the alleged victim not in Florida; she had been arrested for underage drinking in a New Jersey town near Mantua.
Helmer also found a neighbor who said her daughter had run away from home with the alleged victim after the alleged victim falsely claimed someone intended to beat the girl. Another neighbor recounted how the complaining witness had been seen in a playhouse built by neighborhood boys and that she was nude and drinking. When the incident was reported to Gross, he said the alleged victim would not be allowed to leave his trailer until the playhouse was destroyed. The neighbor also testified that at first the neighborhood boys refused to take down the playhouse, but finally did after the supposed victim said she would falsely accuse them of rape if they did not do so.
On July 25, 2001, the jury acquitted Gross.
Gross sued his lawyer who represented him at the trial in which he was convicted and settled the lawsuit for $360,000.
– Maurice Possley