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Second woman testifies she was groped by former college cook

By Karen Florin

Publication: theday.com

Published November 13. 2013 7:00PM   Updated November 14. 2013 12:09AM

A second woman told a New London jury Wednesday that former Connecticut College cook Jose A. Lopez, whom she considered a friend, took her by surprise last year when he reached down her pants and touched her sexually.

The 27-year-old woman testified that the encounter in the college's Harris Dining Hall in April 2012 left her anxious, confused and astounded.

"After all these years, what now had changed that would lead anybody to believe they could touch me that way?" she said under direct examination by prosecutor Sarah E. Steere.

Her response echoed the testimony of the other alleged victim, a Connecticut College graduate who testified last week that Lopez had touched her sexually in an encounter in the dining hall during spring break of 2012, when she was a senior. The first victim had told the jury that Lopez, who she had come to think of as a friend and an uncle figure during her college years, had sat down next to her in a dining booth, pinned her legs and touched her through her pants, leaving her feeling frantic and confused.

Lopez, 46, of Waterford has pleaded not guilty to third-degree sexual assault, fourth-degree sexual assault and second-degree unlawful restraint. He has rejected an offer to plead guilty as a sexual offender and opted for a trial. A jury of six women and two male alternates began hearing evidence on Friday before Judge Barbara Bailey Jongbloed.

Both of the alleged victims have been identified in the courtroom by only their first names and initials. Both have said that they routinely exchanged hugs with Lopez, who eventually was told by college officials to stop hugging students.

Lopez's attorney, Pamala J. Favreau, contends that Lopez was "ambushed" by college officials, who ignored Lopez's denial of the allegations and sought out the second victim to bolster the case against Lopez after the first woman came forward with her complaint. Lopez had worked with the second alleged victim's mother in the dining hall and had once filed a complaint against the mother, according to Favreau.

The alleged victim testified Friday that she had met Lopez about 10 years ago when she briefly worked at the Bella Notte nightclub in Norwich, where he worked security.

"The connection was established that he worked with my mother at Conn College," she testified. Every time she visited her mother at work, she said Lopez was friendly, always gave her a "hug hello" and a "hug goodbye," and would hold her infant daughter. She said he never initiated sexual contact but in 2010 sat next to her in a booth at the dining hall and suggested she could "sit on his fingers." She testified that she "laughed it off" in order to avoid a potentially awkward situation, but she told her mother what happened.

When Lopez reached into her pants last spring at the college, making "skin to skin" contact, the woman said she removed his hand, said goodbye to her mother and left. She did not make a complaint until the college's Human Resources Department contacted her during their investigation of the student's complaint. In reviewing his file, the in-house investigators noticed the woman's mother had reported Lopez's alleged off-color comment to her daughter.

Both of the alleged victims cooperated with the college's investigation of the incidents, which led to Lopez's termination, and with New London Detective Frank Jarvis, who conducted a criminal investigation and prepared arrest warrants.

Lopez's attorney, Favreau, will cross-examine the woman when the trial resumes today. Favreau has subpoenaed medical records of the alleged victim and has informed the court that she intends to bring up the woman's pending prescription drug charges and attempt to discredit her in other ways.

"I think they (the jury) are entitled to see what type of person they're asked to rely on," Favreau said.

k.florin@theday.com

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