Trial starts for man accused of raping teens

Defense attorney says runaway and girl in foster care are lying, ruining his client's life

Posted: Wednesday, May 21, 2003

The district attorney told a Juneau jury Tuesday that a man on trial for rape took advantage of a runaway girl and a girl in foster care because no one would believe they'd been raped. But the man's defense attorney said the teenagers are lying and have ruined the man's life.

Michael Roberts, 34, is charged with one count of first-degree sexual assault, two counts of second-degree sexual abuse of a minor, both felonies, and one count of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, a misdemeanor. The charges stem from incidents in May 2002 involving one of the 15-year-old girls.

In a separate indictment, Roberts was charged with four counts of second-degree sexual abuse of a minor stemming from incidents in May 2002 with the other 15-year-old girl.

"Vulnerability: That's what this case is about," District Attorney Richard Svobodny told the jury Tuesday. "Michael Roberts preyed on the vulnerability of two children who had no one looking out for them or caring for them, weren't living at home and didn't have any parental protection. They were girls that some people would turn away from.

"That is precisely why Michael Roberts took advantage of these girls, because he thought nobody would ever believe them if they told and that people would turn away from them. The law does not turn away from them."

Defense attorney Jeffrey Sauer said the incidents never happened and the girls made up the stories.

"This is a case about one man's nightmare of being falsely accused of sexual assault," Sauer said during opening arguments.

In May 2002, Roberts was staying with a woman who was a family friend and the two girls. The first girl, referred to in the first-degree assault charge, was the woman's foster daughter and the second girl was the woman's granddaughter by marriage, Svobodny told the jury. The second girl had run away from her mother's home. The woman's home was a licensed foster care facility and she often had children and teenagers staying at the house, Svobodny said.

The prosecutor told the jury Roberts had sex with the first girl who consented initially, but then told Roberts to stop. Roberts didn't stop, Svobodny said. Roberts also had sex with the second girl, Svobodny said. According to the law, neither girl could consent to sex with the man because of their age.

But Sauer said that during the time prosecutors said the incident with the second girl occurred, the girl's foster mother was in the home and would have seen her go to Roberts' room in the garage where the alleged incident happened. Sauer said the woman saw nothing.

He also said the girls' stories are not credible because they waited several months to report the alleged incidents, though they had many opportunities before then to tell trusted adults.

Roberts is expected to testify this week in his own defense.

Melanie Plenda can be reached at

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