BANGOR, Maine — A 31-year-old East Millinocket woman testified Thursday at the Penobscot Judicial Center that she was sexually assaulted by an adult male relative in 1990 when she was 8 years old.
The woman told the jury of 11 men and three women, including two alternates, that the man lived next door to her family in Lincoln before her parents divorced and she moved to Millinocket to begin second grade. She said that she was close to the defendant and his wife and visited their trailer so often that she had her own bedroom there.
The Bangor Daily News does not routinely print the names of victims of sex crimes.
She testified that she often spent the night there between first and second grade. When she did, she said that Cote would wake her and take her from her own bed to his own after his wife left for work.
“He told me I would get in trouble if I told anyone,” she said.
She said that Cote engaged in various sexual acts with her including forcing her to perform oral sex on him in his truck when she went with him to deliver scrap metal in the Bangor area.
The woman said that she had little contact with Cote after she moved and no contact with him after he moved to Arizona in 1992 or 1993.
In his opening statement at the trial Thursday, defense attorney Stephen Smith of Bangor said that the woman thought the defendant might be her father. She wrote him until he cut off contact a few years later.
She denied Thursday contacting Cote after he moved.
When he took the stand Thursday afternoon, an unemotional Cote denied having had any sexual contact with the woman while she was a child.
Cote said that after he moved to Arizona, she called him and wrote him several letters. He said that the communication between the two came to an end before October 1996, after she asked if she could live with him in Arizona because she wasn’t getting along well with her mother.
Cote testified that he declined to allow that, and he did not leave a forwarding address when he moved to Nebraska.
The case came to the attention of Millinocket police in 1994 after the girl told her mother what had happened in the summer of 1990, Michael Roberts, deputy district attorney for Penobscot County, said in his opening statement. Somehow, an older brother heard the story, which he told to a school counselor, who was required by law to report suspected abuse.
The Millinocket police turned the case over to the Lincoln police because that is where all but one of the assaults allegedly took place. A warrant was issued for Cote, but the case languished.
In 1996, the woman penned a letter to then-Gov. Angus King asking him to help her “get justice,” Roberts told jurors. King forwarded the letter to the Maine State Police, but they were unable to locate Cote who had moved from Arizona, the last address family members had for him, to Nebraska.
Cote came to the attention of law enforcement in that state in April 2012, the prosecutor told the jury. Police in Nebraska noticed the 18-year-old warrant and let the Maine State Police know he was in custody. When a detective called the woman to tell her Cote was in custody, she cried, Roberts said.
The woman “has waited 20 years to tell you this story,” the prosecutor told jurors. “She has waited 20 years to confront the defendant with her testimony. Once you hear her testimony, you will find Clarence Cote guilty on both counts.”
Smith in his opening statement said that Millinocket police lost the tape recording of their interview with the then-11-year-old girl. The defense attorney said the assaults never happened.
“She wanted him as a father figure,” he said. “He essentially said, ‘I don’t want you in my life.’”
Smith said jurors would conclude he is not guilty.
Cote has been held without bail at the Penobscot County Jail for more than a year, unable to post $50,000 cash bail set Dec. 14, 2012.
The young age of the alleged victim and the fact that Cote fled the state exempted potential charges from Maine’s six-year statute of limitation. When Cote left the state, the statute stopped tolling. If he had returned to Maine, even for a year or two, the time would have counted toward the statute of limitation, Roberts, deputy district attorney for Penobscot County, said in 2012.
The trial is scheduled to resume Friday morning, at which time closing arguments will take place and jurors will receive their instructions. The jury is expected to deliver its verdict Friday.
If convicted, Cote faces up to 30 years in prison and a fine of up to $50,000.
Bangor Daily News reporter Dawn Gagnon contributed to this report.
To reach a sexual assault advocate, call the Statewide Sexual Assault Crisis and Support Line at 800-871-7741, TTY 888-458-5599. This free and confidential 24-hour service is accessible from anywhere in Maine. Calls are automatically routed to the closest sexual violence service provider.