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Vermont jury finds North Adams man guilty of sexual assault on teen

Denzel Lafayette.jpg

Denzel Lafayette of North Adams has been found guilty in Bennington Superior Court of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old while in possession of a deadly weapon.

BENNINGTON — After a two-day trial and dramatic victim testimony, a jury unanimously found Denzel Lafayette of North Adams guilty of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old while in possession of a deadly weapon.

Lafayette, who was 23 at the time of the assault, climbed into the girl’s window carrying a pistol in the early morning hours of August 16, 2020, and sexually assaulted the victim, including penetration. On Wednesday, the first day of the trial in Bennington Superior Court, the victim pointed to Lafayette and identified him as the man who climbed into her window and sexually assaulted her while her family slept.

Thursday began with the defense’s cross examination of the victim; no new evidence was brought to light. With that, both the state and defense rested, meaning no new witnesses or testimony would be presented.

Defense attorney Lamar Enzor then took the opportunity to ask for an acquittal on all charges based on a lack of evidence. Judge Cortland Corsones dismissed one of the three charges — luring — which was linked to the victim and Lafayette’s relationship on Facebook. A count of child pornography was also dismissed last year.

The remaining counts, for which Lafayette was found guilty, were sexual assault with no consent, and being in possession of a weapon while committing a crime.

In the afternoon, the attorneys gave closing arguments.

“In this case, much of the evidence is undisputed,” said prosecutor Alexander Burke.

But Enzor attempted to discredit the photos and screenshots that were submitted into evidence. He also attempted to discredit the victim’s testimony.

The jury left the courtroom to begin deliberating at 1:54 p.m. and everyone was called back for the verdict at 2:27 p.m.

Lafayette was found guilty on both counts. Enzor polled each juror and they all individually said he was guilty. Lafayette showed little to no emotion when the verdict was announced.

Enzor has 21 days to file post-judgement motions, and Burke has another seven days to respond. Lafayette remains in custody.

Earlier action

Lafayette was accused of sexual assault without consent of a just-turned 15-year-old after their Facebook friend relationship turned sexual and culminated in a secret plan to meet at 3 a.m. at her father’s Bennington home.

According to court documents, in the wee hours of a warm August morning in 2020, after meeting the teen on Facebook and becoming chat friends over several weeks — exchanging photos and talking on the Messenger app — Lafayette allegedly was dropped off near the trailer home where the teen lived part-time with her father. Over Messenger, Lafayette and the victim coordinated the eventual meeting to have sex, with Lafayette climbing through her bedroom window so as not to wake her father or grandmother.

A witness who lived next door testified that he’d been awake that night after off-roading with friends. After his friends left, he noticed a black car driving back and forth on the quiet, dead-end road, and an individual exited the car. He called the police, who couldn’t find either the vehicle or the individual.

Later, he heard a noise and noticed the defendant standing outside, and confronted him before alerting the police again. He and the defendant exchanged words, and then the defendant walked off. The witness described the defendant’s distinct clothes, which were later seen on a video sent by Lafayette to the victim, and entered into evidence.

Bennington Police Detective Tony Silvestri detailed his social media Facebook investigation that corroborated the statements coming from the victim, linking recently deleted messages to the defendant showing the chats that turned sexual soon after they began.

The victim’s mother also testified, telling the court that the teen wasn’t allowed to use social media but had found a way to access Facebook through her grandmother’s tablet and her phone’s web browser. Once alerted to what had happened, the mother confronted the defendant through Facebook’s Facetime app.

She testified that Lafayette admitted to what happened, that he knew her age and apologized several times before ending the conversation. Soon after, the family went to the Bennington Police Station to report the crime.

The most dramatic testimony came from the victim herself, who detailed how the online relationship began as an innocent chat and ended with Lafayette climbing through her window to have sex, handing her his gun as he climbed into her bedroom. In often excruciating detail, she described the sexual assault in a barely audible voice, testifying that at one point after they’d had sex, both she and Lafayette heard voices and saw a flashlight shine into her bedroom window. Lafayette started “freaking out,” and asked her to hide in her closet.

When she came back, she told Lafayette he had to leave and that she’d scream if he didn’t. He climbed back out the window, leaving visible footprints outside.

Lafayette forgot a black bandanna he’d been wearing inside the victim’s bedroom, so the victim sent him a photo of the bandanna afterward. Lafayette allegedly told her to keep it. That photo was also entered into evidence, as well as a series of chats on Facebook that were attained through a little-known police portal that Facebook had set up for law enforcement to capture social media content in the case of a crime, even if it is deleted.

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