Trial starts for former Missouri lawmaker facing sex charges

Thursday, March 19, 2009 | 4:19 p.m. CDT; updated 8:13 a.m. CDT, Friday, March 20, 2009

JEFFERSON CITY — A teenage girl testified Thursday that she thought she was experiencing a nightmare when she awoke one night to find a former St. Louis County lawmaker placing his penis on her hand.

The girl's testimony came at the start of the trial of former Rep. Scott Muschany, 42, who is charged with felony deviate sexual assault and a misdemeanor of exposing his genitals to a minor.

Prosecutors contend that in the early morning hours of May 17, after the final day of the 2008 legislative session, the married Republican lawmaker walked into the bedroom of the then 14-year-old girl, the daughter of a mid-Missouri woman with whom he was having an affair, and rubbed his penis against the sleeping teen.

Muschany's lawyer, Robert Haar, denied those accusations and contended the teen was angry with her divorced mother, in part because the girl's father blames Muschany for breaking up the marriage.

The trial is scheduled for two days at the Cole County courthouse, just a few blocks east of the Capitol. The five women and seven men on the jury were selected from Clay County in the Kansas City area. If convicted of the most serious felony charge, Muschany faces up to seven years in prison and a fine of up to $20,000.

The girl and her immediate family members are not being identified because the victims of alleged sex crimes are generally not identified.

In court Thursday, the girl, who now is 15, said she has been reluctant to talk about the incident because she was embarrassed.

"I woke up to my hand on his penis," the girl testified. The incident lasted only a couple of seconds, the girl said, and she initially thought "it was a nightmare."

Most of the time the teen spent testifying centered on attempts by Muschany's lawyer to raise doubts about the accuracy of the girl's account. Haar highlighted discrepancies in the details she offered to police and to attorneys preparing for the trial, such as the degree to which the girl was awake during the incident and whether she recalled whether Muschany was standing upright over her bed or squatting.

Haar also probed the teen's relationship with her mother, asking about tension in the home and claims by the girl's father that Muschany broke up the marriage through the affair.

During his opening statement, Haar acknowledged that Muschany had been involved in an on-again, off-again affair with the girl's mother for two years and came to the woman's home that evening after being told that none of the children would be there. Haar said the former lawmaker and the woman had sex, and that afterward, Muschany followed the woman into the teen's bedroom without realizing the teen was sleeping there but never touched the girl "in any way, shape or form."

"The whole idea that this man, who is paranoid about anyone discovering his affair, would knowingly walk into a room occupied by one of her kids — in any circumstances let alone naked — makes no sense at all," Haar said. "And the idea that he would touch the teenager in front of her mom is absurd."

Prosecutor Anji Gandhi offered a different explanation. Gandhi started the trial by explaining how the teenage girl woke up in the middle of the night and found in her room a naked, tall man who grabbed the teen's hand and placed it on his penis.

"She was petrified," Gandhi said. "She was mortified that this had happened, that she had her hand on a man's penis."

The prosecution wrapped up its case by mid-afternoon Thursday after calling four additional witnesses: two of the teen's friends, the girl's father and a Jefferson City police detective who investigated the case.

Detective Lee Tubbesing testified that when interviewed by police, Muschany said he was looking for a bathroom after having sex with the girl's mother. The girl's mother a little later followed him upstairs and told him to be quiet before walking away and into the girl's bedroom.

Tubbesing said Muschany told police three times that he followed the woman into the bedroom because he was concerned there could be a burglar or intruder in the home. But Muschany said that when he realized there was someone sleeping in the bed, he crouched behind the woman and told her to back out of the room, the detective said.

First elected to the House from the 87th District in 2004 and re-elected in 2006, Muschany took the seat of term-limited House Speaker Catherine Hanaway, who is now the U.S. attorney in St. Louis. He resigned from the legislature in September, citing a need to focus on his family and legal defense.

In May, before the accusations against him became public, Muschany announced that he would not run for re-election so he could spend more time with his wife and sons. He said he had made the decision in January but kept it quiet for months so as not to diminish his effectiveness in the legislature.

During an interview after removing his name from the ballot, Muschany said, "There's no scandal as far as I'm aware of. My wife and I just decided it wasn't the right time to continue."

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