PATERSON, N.J. – The daughter of a man accused of raping and impregnating her and her sisters testified Wednesday to years of abuse in terms so graphic that a courtroom security guard passed the judge a note asking for a break.
The 24-year-old woman spoke in a calm, articulate voice about the extreme abuse she endured throughout her childhood, culminating with her becoming pregnant at age 15 with her father's child.
"When I was about 3 years old, I thought screaming and crying and yelling would help," the woman testified. "As I got older, I realized it made it worse."
Her father was arrested in 2006 and ruled competent to stand trial earlier this year. He has pleaded not guilty to 27 charges including sexual assault, lewdness, child endangerment and criminal sexual contact.
The man is accused of raping five of his daughters and impregnating three, and they are believed to have given birth to a total of six children. The Associated Press generally doesn't identify victims of sexual crimes and is not reporting the name of the man or his former wife to protect the identities of their children, who are now older than 18.
The daughter testified Wednesday in the first of five trials — one for each child he's accused of victimizing.
Recounting how her father spoke often of being a prophet sent by God to change the world and "change the system," the woman said he told her he was a reincarnation of Jesus Christ who was meant to ensure his family bloodlines were pure by keeping her as a sexual slave.
"He said that if he has a child with one of his own children, it will be a supreme being to normal people," she testified.
Although the trials are being held separately, Superior Court Judge Raymond A. Reddin Reddin ruled that testimony about the home environment and what happened to the other children would be narrowly allowed. The absence of such details, Reddin said in his ruling, could make the case totally unbelievable to jurors.
Both the man's former wife — who had nine children with him — and the daughter testified to a home atmosphere of constant beatings, physical and mental abuse and extreme isolation of the family.
The former wife testified that the man insisted all children be born at home so none would have a birth certificate or social security number. She said the man strictly controlled their diets and prohibited them from seeing a doctor or visiting a hospital.
None of the children attended school and were prohibited from having friends, the wife and daughter said.
They were prohibited from telling anyone about their situation, an order they said the man enforced with death threats and constant beatings.
The daughter testified Wednesday that her limited contact with the outside world meant she rarely questioned her father.
"I once asked him if we could go to school. He told me: 'School isn't any fun. Children don't like it,'" the daughter testified. "I said: 'That's what normal people do, I saw it on TV. Can I do it?"
Authorities said the assaults on the children began in the mid-1980s and lasted until 2002, when the parents separated. The assaults occurred at homes in Paterson and nearby East Orange, Orange and Eatontown, urban areas across northern New Jersey.
Testimony from the daughter and the man's former wife detail a timeline of abuse that escalated gradually until the man seemingly had control over everyone in the household and prevented them from going to authorities.
The former wife said the pair met as high school students in the 1970s in Paterson, and their relationship deteriorated from teenage infatuation and once-playful arguments to a deeply dysfunctional marriage of extreme abuse.
The daughter described a similar escalation of events in her testimony, recounting how her father started beating her with a leather belt when she was 3, touched her sexually at 8 and forced her into regular sexual intercourse by the time she was 12.
The issue of whether, or when the case may have come to the attention of any authorities or outside agencies has not been raised in the trial thus far.
According to court records and published reports, some of the crimes are alleged to have occurred while the family was under scrutiny by the state child welfare agency and after the father pleaded guilty to assault and child endangerment.
New Jersey's Division of Youth and Family Services has declined to comment, citing confidentiality requirements.