GREENFIELD – As the prosecutor asked her to point out her abuser, the teen nodded toward Paul Price, seated feet away from her at the defendant’s table, though she wouldn’t meet the man’s eyes.
Price, 31, faces five sexual assault-related felonies, each accusing him of having an inappropriate relationship with a young girl. He appeared Monday for a bench trial in Hancock Circuit Court, hoping to convince a judge of his innocence.
The interim Hancock Circuit Court judge, Jeffery Eggers, heard about four hours of testimony in the case, including statements from the victim and Price, who each accused the other of being untruthful.
Eggers, who was appointed to the bench earlier this year after the retirement of Judge Richard Culver, has taken the case under advisement. Price faces two counts of sexual misconduct with a minor as a Level 4 felony; one count of sexual misconduct with a minor as a Level 5 felony; one count of criminal confinement as a Level 6 felony; and one count of sexual battery as a Level 6 felony.
Story continues below gallery
Prosecutors called the victim, a few of her relatives and the investigators who handled the case to testify Monday morning.
Price, who lived in Hancock County at the time of alleged offenses, took the witness stand to defend himself Monday afternoon, telling the judge he believes the girl made up the allegations to hurt him.
The victim described several instances in which Price gave her alcohol before touching her inappropriately or engaging in sexual acts with her.
The girl admitted she felt the relationship was consensual when it began; she told the judge that, on their first encounter, she’d drunkenly kissed Price while she was visiting his home.
On two other occasions, the girl drank alcohol with Price, kissed him and engaged in sex acts with him, the girl testified.
But her feelings about the man eventually changed, the girl said.
She testified that at the end of the relationship, the defendant held her down against her will and fondled her.
As the girl told her side of the story to the judge Monday morning, Price listened from the defendant’s table, often shaking his head.
Taking the witness stand later in the afternoon, Price repeatedly denied the girl’s allegations.
His attorney, John Merlau of New Palestine, told the judge Price always had a strained relationship with the victim’s family and believed the ill feelings the family has toward him became motive for the girl to lie to investigators.
While answering questions from his attorney, Price told the judge about a time earlier this year when the girl’s father came to his home and threatened him with a gun after hearing the allegations.
Price never reported the incident, he said, and no charges were ever filed; but Merlau pointed to the argument as proof of the rocky relationship between the defendant and the victim’s family, calling the girl’s story “a fabrication.”
But Deputy Prosecutor Cathy Wilson, who presented the state’s evidence against Price, said it is ridiculous to think the girl is a “pawn in a scheme” planned by her loved ones.
Wilson said the victim and her family had nothing to gain from the situation, and she questioned why the girl, why her parents, would go through the emotional pain of a criminal investigation if the victim’s tale wasn’t true.
“This is not a conspiracy,” Wilson said. “This is a … girl who was taken advantage of.”
At the conclusion of testimony, Eggers told the attorneys he would take time to consider the evidence and announce his ruling in the coming days.
If found guilty, Price faces a maximum of 12 years in prison for the Level 4 felony count. The Level 5 felony count carries a penalty of six years in prison, and the two Level 6 felony counts each carry a penalty of 2 ½ years in prison.