This story is part of IowaWatch’s ongoing coverage of the trial of Toshiki Itoh, a University of Iowa Professor accused of sexually abusing and assaulting his lab assistant. Click below to read earlier coverage.
10-22: UI Professor denies sexual abuse, assault
10-21: Fearing loss of job, lab assistant kept abuse secret, she testifies
10-20: UI Professor assaulted lab assistant many times, victim says
10-18: Two years paid leave, no spotlight for UI professor on trial for sexual abuse
A surprise defense tactic, spinning off Toshiki Itoh’s self-defense assertions in his trial on sex abuse and assault charges, sparked an unusual display of anger by the presiding judge, prompting him to abruptly halt proceedings Friday in Johnson County District Court.
With the jury out of the courtroom, Judge Denver Dillard leaned forward, threw his pen on to the desk and accused Itoh’s lawyer, Patricia C. Kamath, of trying to “sandbag” the proceedings.
“I am quite irritated by this, Ms. Kamath,” Dillard said to the assembled attorneys during a recess. After ordering the court to reconvene at 1 p.m.
and saying he was going to send the jury home for the day, Dillard stood up, walked briskly from the courtroom, slamming the door behind him.
Kamath angered the judge when she unexpectedly filed a formal motion saying Itoh would use self-defense in his case. Dillard said the motion should have been filed earlier.
Kamath said she felt the law allowed her to file them when she did.
But later, Kamath told IowaWatch she should have advised the judge and the prosecuting attorney earlier.
“I was wrong,” she said. “I should have tipped the judge off.”
As result of the late filing, Dillard said he would have to re-draft the formal instructions to the jury. He ordered the attorney to return to court later in the afternoon to work on the instructions.
The jury will use those instructions to guide them during their deliberations on whether Itoh is guilty or not guilty on one count of sexual abuse of his lab assistant and two counts of assault causing bodily injury.
In gripping detail earlier this week, the lab assistant said Itoh, an assistant professor in the University of Iowa’s Department of Pathology, repeatedly hit and sexually abused her on several occasions between Jan. 1, 2007, and July 10, 2008, when she, for the first time, called campus police.
She said he once twisted her breasts until they bled, including once with a paper clip, and that he also touched her genitals. The lab assistant, a Japanese national, said she endured the assaults for so long without complaint because her visa requires her to have a job and she feared that if she complained about Itoh, the university would fire her.
Campus police have testified that Itoh admitted to them that he hit her several times, once breaking her glasses.
During the trial Friday, Itoh resumed his testimony, which he had started Thursday afternoon. But Friday, he argued that his lab assistant attacked him, not the other way around.
Itoh jolted back and forth in the witness chair, shaking his hands and groaning into the microphone to demonstrate what he described as his lab assistant’s enraged behavior. He said that she attacked him on those occasions when he asked her to work or talked about her employment. He tried to restrain her, he said, but was overpowered.
“I felt she was much stronger because she was so emotional,” he said. Itoh said he weighs about 120 pounds. The lab assistant, later testifying as a rebuttal witness, said she weighs 63 kilograms, which equals almost 140 pounds, but that she was “ten pounds” lighter in the summer of 2008.
UI police photos taken on July 10 showed bruising on the side of her face and forearms. There were no photos of bruising on Itoh’s body, and campus detectives said they did not observe any bruises during any of their interviews with him.
Today, Itoh said that on July 8 he talked with his lab assistant about an experiment she didn’t want to work on. When she refused to do it, he got up to leave the room and told her she needed to improve her attitude. He testified that her hands began to shake, that she started to growl, and then struck him in the chest. Itoh said there was a struggle, but he did not strike her back.
“I tried to grab her lab coat, and then her head,” he said, describing his efforts to restrain her. “At the beginning, I grabbed wherever I could grab. Originally, I tried to push her away.”
A similar scenario unfolded on July 10, according to his testimony. He said he showed up to his office later than usual and asked her why she had not been at work the previous day. She has testified that she took the day off to recover from injuries sustained when Itoh’s assaulted her on July 8.
When she refused to respond, he told her that he had decided to fire her. She became angry then, shaking and growling in the same manner as she had done before, Itoh said.
“You cannot fire me,” she replied, as she struck him, according to Itoh’s testimony. Again, Itoh tried to restrain her but couldn’t for very long, saying again that she was too strong .
“I lost my control,” he said, in slow English, “Control of her behavior.”
To restrain her, he grabbed her forearm and gripped as tightly as he could. When she grabbed his shoulder with her left arm, he hit it away from him, he said.
At one point, Itoh said he saw his lab assistant bump into some furniture during the struggle.
When prosecuting attorney Anne Lahey cross-examined Itoh, he began to rely heavily on the court interpreter to translate the questions as well his responses. Lahey asked him if he ever hit his lab assistant, and Itoh responded “No.”
“You never hit her on the face at all?” Lahey said.
“No,” Itoh said, after conferring with the interpreter.
“Did you tell the officers you hit her several times?” Lahey asked.
“Yes,” Itoh said.
“Dr. Itoh, this is mistreatment, isn’t it?” Lahey said.
“I don’t think so,” Itoh said.
Kamath then asked him why he didn’t think he was mistreating his lab assistant.
“Because she is the one who attacked me first,” he said. “It happened because of her behavior, because of her action.”
In an interview later with IowaWatch, Kamath described the weeklong trial as long and tiring.
“It’s an exhausting process,” she said. “I’m sure it’s been very difficult for the jurors.”
She also described her remorse over the effect of the trial on Itoh’s career.
“I think his life is ruined,” she said.
The court will reconvene on Monday to hear closing arguments by Kamath and the prosecuting attorney.
(Michael Anderson is a senior journalism major at the University of Iowa’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication with a second major in philosophy and a minor in English.)