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A lawyer who endorses ‘Believe Women’ says she doesn’t believe this one

Sean Mulveyhill, right, entered a court room before a pretrial hearing in Hampshire Superior Court, in Northampton on Sept. 15, 2010.
Sean Mulveyhill, right, entered a court room before a pretrial hearing in Hampshire Superior Court, in Northampton on Sept. 15, 2010. (Dave Roback, The Republican/via Associated Press)

BELCHERTOWN -- Michelle Cruz is a former prosecutor and successful criminal defense lawyer whose Facebook page contains a photo of people holding signs that say “BELIEVE WOMEN.”

But as she stood there in Eastern Hampshire District Court in Belchertown on Tuesday afternoon, Cruz made it abundantly clear that she did not believe the woman who says Cruz’s client raped her.

That client, Sean Mulveyhill, was once at the center of one of the nation’s most notorious bullying cases. Now a 21-year-old junior at Mount Holyoke College, where Mulveyhill worked as a bartender at the campus bar, has accused him of rape.

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Mulveyhill, 26, received probation for the criminal harassment of Phoebe Prince, a 15-year-old South Hadley High School freshman who killed herself in 2010 after a relentless bullying campaign that prosecutors say Mulveyhill instigated and led.

He has now been suspended from his job at Mount Holyoke, where officials say police are investigating the rape allegation and the college is trying to find out why someone with Mulveyhill’s background was hired.

For two days, during an unusually long civil hearing to extend a restraining order against Mulveyhill, the petite alleged victim testified that her initial infatuation with Mulveyhill soured and that their relationship ended abruptly when Mulveyhill ignored her efforts to rebuff his advances and forced himself on her at his house about 2 miles from campus in South Hadley.

But in her final pitch to District Judge Bruce Melikian, asking him not to extend that order, Cruz insisted that the alleged victim was lying.

Rather than offer one reason for why she believed the alleged victim made up the story, Cruz offered two. Either the alleged victim regretted having consensual sex with Mulveyhill, or she wanted to get out of her midterm exams because she was so stressed out.

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Cruz offered more theories on why the alleged victim’s claim of rape was not credible: she didn’t flee from Mulveyhill when she had the chance; she didn’t fight back, she didn’t scratch or kick or punch Mulveyhill; she took a nap after the rape. Cruz said the alleged ruse worked, because the alleged victim’s exams were postponed after she reported the rape.

Vince DeMore is the alleged victim’s lawyer, so he knows that advocates like him, and Cruz, are sworn to provide a robust defense for their clients.

Still, he plainly had trouble trying to fathom why Cruz was going down this road, especially in a civil hearing. What Cruz described as considerate, courteous texts from Mulveyhill to the alleged victim, DeMore described as predatory grooming. Working at a women’s college where employees are forbidden from having romantic or sexual relationships with students, even if consensual, Mulveyhill pursued the relationship anyway.

DeMore could barely conceal his contempt for the idea that if women don’t fight their rapists, they are somehow complicit in their own rape.

“If only she fought harder, if only she used physical force, if only she kicked and scratched him, she’d be a better victim,” DeMore said, mocking the idea.

The obligation didn’t lie with her, he said.

“The only obligation was Mr. Mulveyhill’s, to stop when she puts up her hands and shakes her head no,” DeMore said.

DeMore said he considered Cruz’s contention that his client made up her story illogical.

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“This is a woman reliving that trauma as she tells that story,” he said. “This is not a dumb woman. This is not someone who thinks reporting a sexual assault and seeking a restraining order and subjecting herself to a brutal 2-plus hour cross examination, that that is going to reduce her stress level. So she won’t have to write a paper on psychology? That stretches credulity.”

He offered an alternative to Cruz’s theories.

“Or did this man rape this woman? That is the most logical explanation,” he said. “It’s the one that is supported by the evidence.”

The judge will now weigh that evidence, even as authorities weigh whether there is enough evidence to seek criminal charges against Mulveyhill, who invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege and declined to testify at the hearing.


Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cullen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeCullen.