Roy Moore challenges woman's claim of sexual assault as a new groping charge surfaces

Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama sought Wednesday to discredit a woman’s accusation that he sexually assaulted her when she was 16, suggesting that what looks like his signature on her high school yearbook is a forgery.

Moore also disputed a statement by Beverly Young Nelson that she’d had no contact with him since the alleged assault took place in 1977 in Gadsden, Ala.

In an open letter to Fox News host Sean Hannity, Moore said he was the Etowah County Circuit Court judge who presided over her divorce case in 1999, “a matter that apparently caused her no distress at a time that was 18 years closer to the alleged assault.”

“Yet 18 years later, while talking before the cameras about the supposed assault, she seemingly could not contain her emotions,” Moore wrote.

Moore’s attorney, Phillip L. Jauregui Jr., demanded that Nelson, 55, and her lawyer, Gloria Allred, give the yearbook to a neutral custodian so that a handwriting expert could examine it.

“Is it genuine or is it a fraud?” Jauregui said of the signature.

Moore’s accusations came as another woman, Tina Johnson of Gadsden, Ala., alleged that Moore grabbed her buttocks during a visit to his law office in 1991, when she was 28, according to AL.com, publisher of the Birmingham News and other Alabama newspapers. Moore’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Allred renewed her call for a Senate hearing on Moore’s conduct toward women, saying Nelson would testify under oath that he sexually assaulted her. If a hearing takes place, Nelson would turn over the yearbook to an independent handwriting expert, she said.

At a news conference Monday in New York, Nelson, seated alongside Allred, said Moore, a 30-year-old prosecutor at the time, signed the yearbook: “Love, Roy Moore D.A.”

The encounter occurred at the Olde Hickory House restaurant in Gadsden, where she was a 16-year-old waitress and he was a frequent customer, she said.

A week or two after he signed the yearbook, she alleged, Moore offered her a ride home and she accepted. But instead of driving her there, he parked the car behind the restaurant, groped her breasts, tried to shove her face into his crotch and bruised her neck before she stopped him, she said.

“I thought that he was going to rape me,” Nelson said.

Jauregui said that Moore would never have put “D.A.” at the end of his signature in 1977 because he was only a deputy district attorney.

But when he was on the bench overseeing Nelson’s divorce case years later, the initials D.A. would appear at times after his name, Jauregui said. Moore had an assistant who sometimes used a stamp for the judge’s signature and then initialed the documents. The assistant’s initials were D.A., Jauregui said.

Nelson’s is one of the more serious sexual assault accusations that have emerged in Moore’s Senate campaign. Another woman says that Moore molested her when she was 14 and he was 32.

Leaders of the national Republican Party have called on Moore to end his campaign and threatened to expel him from the Senate should he win the Dec. 12 special election against Democrat Doug Jones.

Moore, 70, has vowed to stay in the race. He taunted Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell on Twitter on Wednesday.

But Moore’s GOP support continued to crumble. Alabama’s senior senator, Richard C. Shelby, said he planned to write in the name of another candidate on his ballot. The winner of the election will fill the Senate seat vacated by Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions.

“I wish we had another candidate,” Shelby said, naming Sessions as the ideal contender.

Still, most of Alabama’s Republican Party was sticking by him. A party committee for the 5th Congressional District in northern Alabama on Tuesday night adopted a resolution supporting Moore.

State party Chairwoman Terry Lathan warned over the weekend that any Republican official or candidate who publicly backed a Senate candidate other than Moore would be making “a serious error.”

With Moore's financial support from national Republican groups drying up, Jones has now outspent him on television advertising by 11 to 1, according to Advertising Analytics.

Also troublesome for Moore: Fox News personalities began casting doubt on his denials of the sexual misconduct allegations.

Tucker Carlson faulted Moore for using his Christian faith as a shield against the women’s accusations by saying his adversaries were trying to stifle religious conservatives.

Sean Hannity, who interviewed Moore last week, issued an ultimatum Tuesday giving Moore 24 hours to clear up “inconsistencies” in his denials. After receiving Moore’s letter calling the allegations a smear, Hannity said on his show Wednesday night that voters needed time to make an informed decision on whether they were true, even if that means Republican Gov. Kay Ivey might need to postpone the election.

“The people of Alabama deserve to have a fair choice, especially in light of the new allegations tonight,” Hannity said.

michael.finnegan@latimes.com

Twitter: @finneganLAT

Times staff writer Lisa Mascaro in Washington contributed to this report.

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UPDATES:

7:30 p.m.: The story was updated with Roy Moore’s letter to Sean Hannity and Hannity’s response.

4:08 p.m.: The story was updated with comments from Gloria Allred and a new allegation of groping.

The story was originally published at 3:15 p.m.

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