Victor Peña, the man charged with abducting and repeatedly raping a woman after she left a Boston bar in 2019, testified in his own defense Monday, saying he was trying to help the woman that snowy night and did not hold her against her will.
The last-minute testimony, after evidence had concluded last week, was the first time that jurors had seen Peña in person during the trial in Suffolk Superior Court.
Before Monday, the only glimpses that jurors had gotten of Peña, 42, were through three-year-old photos that showed a young man with a mop of dark hair. Peña now looks radically different: thin and aged with long, wiry graying black hair.
Prone to outbursts, Peña had watched and listened to the trial via Zoom from another floor in the courthouse. A large screen that showed Peña from his remote location had been turned toward the wall ever since one particularly lewd moment during jury selection.
Assistant District Attorney Ian Polumbaum argued against reopening evidence Monday, after both the Commonwealth and defense had rested their cases, because of the “abundance of risk.”
“It is one more disruption, one more chance … to accomplish the goal of derailing the trial,” Polumbaum said.
The 16-person jury had already heard five days of testimony, and visited the now-vacant Charlestown apartment where the then-23-year-old woman said she was held captive for nearly three days and repeatedly assaulted after she left Hennessy’s bar in January 2019.
Peña has pleaded not guilty to one count of kidnapping and 10 counts of aggravated rape.
For over an hour Monday morning, Peña gave rambling, animated testimony, at times standing in the witness box and waving his arms, repeatedly failing to answer the question asked. Through a Spanish interpreter, he said that when he encountered the alleged victim on the cold, snowy night, she was crossing the street and asked for his help.
He wanted to take her to a hospital, he said. She was the one who suggested they go to his apartment, he testified.
They began kissing after they “started to have nice chemistry,” said Peña, dressed head to toe in black and with a rosary around his neck. He was reluctant to have sex with the woman, Peña said.
“She became enamored with me, and she wanted to have relations with me,” Peña said. “The love grew, and then we liked one another.”
The woman did not want to leave his apartment, he said.
As his testimony wound down, Peña sought to have the last word, claiming that the trial was a corrupt “persecution.”
“They want to damage my record, and the press wants to attack me,” he said.
Last week, jurors heard from the victim, now 27. She testified, eyes downcast, in horrific detail about the sexual assaults she endured in a grimy one-bedroom apartment strewn with debris. The woman told jurors that Peña threatened to kill her and she believed him and eventually stopped resisting.
“I just let him,” the woman said on the stand. “I didn’t feel safe objecting.”
She didn’t know where she was; she had no clothes, and the front door was locked with a deadbolt that required a key on the inside, she testified. Her last memory of Jan. 19, 2019, the woman said, was feeling tipsy and dancing to a live band at Hennessy’s Bar with her sister and girlfriends.
The eight men and eight women, which includes four alternate jurors, watched numerous surveillance videos tracking Peña’s snowy course as he allegedly led, and at times carried, what appeared to be the intoxicated woman from downtown Boston onto the MBTA Orange Line and to his second-floor apartment in the Bunker Hill public housing development at 49 Walford Way.
Jurors also heard testimony last week from a DNA analyst who said DNA collected from the woman’s body included Peña’s DNA. The chances that it belonged to someone other than Peña were fewer than one in an octillion, the analyst testified.
If convicted as charged, Peña faces 25 years in prison on the kidnapping charge. Each count of rape is punishable by up to 30 years.
Court filings indicated that Peña’s lawyer, Lorenzo Perez, intended to argue a “lack of criminal responsibility because of mental disease or defect.” Other than Peña, Perez did not call a single witness, expert or otherwise, in his client’s defense.
During cross examinations, Perez sought to tease out the stranger aspects of Peña’s demeanor and behavior. Peña believed the woman was an answer to his prayers. He told her how happy he was that they could start a family together. Peña wore fingerless gloves at all hours and spoke in baby talk. He made the woman drink whiskey and read silently from a Spanish-language Bible.
Perez also sought to highlight that Peña never threatened the woman with a weapon. There were sharp knives in the kitchen, he pointed out. There was no gun. Peña never handcuffed, tied, or bound the woman, Perez emphasized.
The final witness after Peña on Monday, Dr. John Young, a forensic psychologist, told jurors that despite Peña reporting that he heard voices in different languages and saw things in black and white, Peña did not have a major mental illness or mood disorder that would affect his grasp on reality.
Young interviewed Peña during a seven-day stay in June at Bridgewater State Hospital for a mental health evaluation. Peña’s trial judge, Associate Justice Anthony M. Campo, ruled on July 12 that he was competent to stand trial.
Closing arguments are now scheduled for Tuesday morning.