As he has done in three recent trials, the attorney for convicted sex offender Nelson Bernard Clifford told jurors Wednesday that he had a "consensual encounter" with a woman who says he broke into her home and attacked her.
Baltimore prosecutors told jurors they were "confident" the panel would find Clifford guilty of attempted rape. Clifford, 35, has been acquitted of sexual assault in similar trials this summer and in 2011 during which the accusers testified and prosecutors had DNA evidence.
In the case that began Wednesday, Clifford, who served prison time for a 1997 sex offense, is accused of breaking into a third-floor apartment in West Baltimore and sexually assaulting a woman two years ago. When she screamed and resisted, prosecutors say, he fled with her driver's license and left behind a vodka bottle that carried his DNA and palm print.
Assistant State's Attorney Kurt Bjorkland told jurors that the victim "does not know Nelson Clifford and did not invite him into her home" and played her frantic 911 call.
Gregory Fischer, Clifford's defense attorney, offered a similar defense to those in previous cases where he represented Clifford.
"Her account does not quite ring right because she's not telling the truth," Fischer said.
Police and prosecutors refiled this month two sexual assault cases from 2007 that had been dropped a month after they were filed. Authorities say Clifford is tied through DNA evidence to those cases, in which women said a man broke into their homes in the middle of the night and attacked them.
The 28-year-old accuser in this week's case, a nursing professional who said she works three jobs and wore colorful scrubs on the witness stand, told jurors that she had the flu and was asleep on Dec. 3, 2011, when she awoke about 5:30 a.m. to find a man over her, holding an ice pick to her neck.
"At first I thought I was dreaming, but it was real," the woman testified. "I was crying and pleading, asking why was he doing this to me."
She said she did not know her attacker, whose face was concealed with leggings wrapped around his head, and that she was able to ward him off. Bjorkland said the attacker had entered through an unsecured bathroom window after climbing up a fire escape. She said the man left when she said she didn't have any money.
The woman's driver's license was also taken.
"Were you able to give police a name" of the attacker? Bjorkland asked.
"I did not know the person," she responded.
In the other cases, Clifford took the stand and outlined the clumsy sexual escapades of a single man, saying he had met the women at clubs or on chat lines and had been invited over with the expectations of sex.
Jurors are not able to hear the accusations from the other cases.
Fischer questioned the accuser in the latest case about a 2003 conviction on a citation for not displaying identification on a bus. He said it indicated her willingness to be untruthful.
Fischer said that the woman had invited him inside and that they had a "consensual encounter" that ended "prematurely" because of a disagreement.
In cross-examination, Fischer pointed to a taped interview the woman gave to police, and said that her testimony did not match. For example, she testified that Clifford reached for her underwear, but in her taped interview she said he had begun to undress and told her to lie down.
During a bench conference, with Clifford looking on from a few feet away, the woman snapped, "Why is he looking at me?" and began to sob.