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Trial begins for Anchorage cabbie accused of rape

Jerzy Shedlock

The trial of Alaska Yellow Cab driver Chidiebere Nwokorie began Thursday in Anchorage Superior Court, with the state arguing the cabbie tried to force alternative compensation on a woman when he sexually assaulted her after offering what she thought was a free ride.

Assistant District Attorney Jason Gist told jurors there are some givens in life -- like there’s no such thing as a free meal. And, he said, “There’s no such thing as a free cab ride.”

Gist stuck closely to the details of the alleged rape presented nearly three years ago in the charges against Nwokorie. The charges include first-degree sex assault, attempted first-degree sex assault and two counts of second-degree sex assault, all felonies.

Police arrested Nwokorie, 46, of Anchorage, on a Sunday afternoon in August 2011. The charges say the assault occurred in the service lot on Ship Avenue, in an industrial area northeast of downtown.

He spent just hours in jail before being released on $5,000 bail, according to an Anchorage Daily News story at that time.

A little before 2:30 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon, Nwokorie's accuser, frightened and clutching her pants in her hand, flagged down a passing motorist and told him a Yellow Cab driver had sexually assaulted her, according to the charges. The assault happened just before that, Gist said. The woman was 27 at the time.

Gist said the woman had accepted a ride from Nwokorie as she was walking to the Fifth Avenue Mall from the Mountain View neighborhood  to buy a battery for her cell phone. But Nwokorie never took her to the mall, the prosecutor said, and he did not start his meter.

In later interviews with detectives, Nwokorie said he’d offered the woman a free ride because they were the same race, and she looked like she needed help. Nwokorie is African-American. He appeared in court wearing a pinstripe suit.

Nwokorie initially drove the woman to a GCI store in Midtown after convincing her it sold the battery she needed, Gist said. It turned out they didn’t. Rather than take her to the mall, Nwokorie headed for the service lot; he told the woman he’d take her home after retrieving his personal car from the lot, he said.

Gist said Nwokorie started fondling the woman during the drive.

Once at the lot, Nwokorie asked the woman to get in the back seat, and when she refused he “escorted her,” Gist said. He penetrated her with his finger and was preparing to continue with the assault when the woman pulled “a ruse,” he said.

She said she heard something outside, which startled Nwokorie. He pulled up his pants and looked around. That’s when the woman made a run for it, Gist said. But she left behind her belongings, including a jean jacket and shoes -- Air Jordans that were left sitting in the back seat, he said.

The woman waved down a passing motorist, enlisted military man Bradely Orr. Orr was headed to his storage unit to clean his guns after a day at the gun range in Birchwood. Gist said he called 911 for the woman, and during that call Nwokorie pulled up in his cab.

Orr, the first witness to take the stand Thursday, held Nwokorie at gunpoint until police arrived. The prosecutor played the call for the jury. In the call, a dispatcher asks Orr about the woman, and about her assailant. She can be heard giving answers over sobs in the background. When Nwokorie pulls up, Orr apparently quickly retrieves his gun from his vehicle.

At first, he says, “Sir, get back in the car.” But moments later, the command changes to, “Sir, put your hands on the hood of the cab. Put your hands on the hood of the cab.”

He held Nwokorie there until police officers arrived.

Nwokorie denied any sexual contact with the woman, Gist said. He claimed he’d been irate because she stole his phone. The prosecutor admitted as much, arguing she took the phone when she fled because, having used the phone to make two calls during what she thought was a free ride, she knew his background screen was a picture of himself.

Gist said the victim’s DNA was found under Nwokorie’s finger nails.

Defense attorney Joseph Van De Mark called the state’s theory “an interesting story.” He said prosecutors are relying on one thing: the credibility of the victim.

Van De Mark agreed the woman’s genetic material was found on his client, but he said so was the DNA of at least three other people.

“Why? He’s a cabbie,” Van De Mark said. “He has contact with people” daily.

According to the defense, the woman came running toward Nwokorie, yelling she’d been raped. Van De Mark did not specify where this occurred.

He asked jurors to listen closely to the woman’s testimony, as well as scrutinize the state’s lack of evidence. He said they’ll come to find the woman is dishonest and told investigators inconsistent stories. She also made money off the incident, Van De Mark said.

According to court records, the alleged victim sued Nwokorie and several companies connected to Yellow Cab. Court records available online do not indicate how much she received in the settlement, and the civil case file was not available Thursday.

Nwokorie’s trial is scheduled to continue through next week.