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Defense targets designer’s accusers

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Leonard is a Times staff writer.

The 20-year-old aspiring model looked rattled as she choked back tears.

She had told a downtown Los Angeles jury that fashion designer Anand Jon had raped her, but now a defense attorney was confronting her with a stack of records that cast doubt on her testimony.

As she struggled to explain herself, she told the court dozens of times that she did not recall some of the details surrounding the alleged assault and afterward. The defense lawyer posed a simple question.

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“Are you telling any lies here today?” Anthony P. Brooklier asked.

The young woman blinked.

“I don’t recall,” she said.

As jurors began deliberations this week in Jon’s sexual assault trial, his team of high-powered defense attorneys has sought to cast their client as the real victim in a case that mixes the glamour of the catwalk with tales of brutality and sleaze.

Defense lawyers have taken aim at each of Jon’s accusers, attempting to show inconsistencies in their stories and describing them as liars engaged in a shadowy plot to bring down the up-and-coming designer.

Some of his accusers, they point out, sent Jon nude or scantily clad photos of themselves before visiting him. Some continued corresponding with him by telephone or in friendly e-mails after they say they were attacked. Many waited months, if not years, before coming forward to report they were assaulted.

“This case . . . is virtually in shambles on the courtroom floor,” defense lawyer Donald B. Marks told jurors during the trial. “And it’s because the witnesses lied and they got away with it so far. They found this court a safe place to lie.”

Prosecutors have accused Jon, whose real name is Anand Jon Alexander, of using the promise of modeling jobs to lure young women and girls as young as 14 to a squalid-looking apartment in Beverly Hills where he acted out sadistic fantasies. But by the end of the trial, prosecutors were making several concessions.

The police investigation was “sloppy,” Deputy Dist. Atty. Frances Young told jurors. Some of Jon’s accusers, she added, citing the 20-year-old who testified, were far from “perfect victims,” calling them naive and reckless.

But Young also told jurors that the 16 women who testified against Jon were telling the truth, and she urged the panel not to be swayed by what she called the “misogyny” of defense arguments.

“Their whole defense was that these girls deserve it,” Young said in her closing argument. “Do not let this defense team fool you.”

Jon, 34, faces 23 felony and misdemeanor charges, including sexual assault and rape, that carry a maximum sentence of life in prison.

The charges involve nine alleged victims. Prosecutors, hoping to bolster their case, also called an additional seven witnesses -- including the 20-year-old -- to testify about other alleged assaults in New York and Texas, where Jon faces more criminal charges. The Times does not name victims or alleged victims in sexual assault cases.

Jon, who had previously starred as a guest designer on the reality television show “America’s Next Top Model,” was arrested in March 2007 after a woman told Beverly Hills police that he had raped her the day before.

A grand jury in Los Angeles indicted him on 59 charges. But in the weeks before trial, prosecutors dropped more than half of the counts. Two more were dropped during the trial.

Defense attorneys argued outside of court that the dropped counts showed the weakness of the case against Jon. Inside court, they attacked the credibility of the designer’s accusers, contending that their actions before and after the alleged attacks undermined their stories.

One girl went to the Beverly Hills Police Department a day after her alleged attack but did not report an assault; instead, she went to take care of a parking ticket. E-mail records for another woman showed that she e-mailed Jon several times after she says she was raped, sending him information about other potential models he could contact.

“We don’t ask you to keep your common sense at the door,” Brooklier told jurors.

Defense attorneys suggested a conspiracy by some of the women, noting that some had contacted other alleged victims. They also pointed to an England-based computer hacker known in the trial only by a computer screen name, Qusling Kismet, who hacked into Jon’s computer and communicated with some of the alleged victims.

And they pounced on the inconsistencies between some of the witnesses’ court testimony and what detectives said they first reported.

In an unusual move, Jon’s attorneys called the lead detective on the case, Beverly Hills Police Det. George Elwell, to testify as part of their client’s defense. Prosecutors countered by highlighting errors in the police work.

Under aggressive questioning, Elwell, a 19-year police veteran, acknowledged that the high-profile investigation had been his first sexual assault case and that he had not previously received training in handling rape cases. He said he wrote some of his reports weeks, if not months, after he conducted interviews.

As Jon sat silently in a dark suit and a white tie, Young described him as a “serial rapist” who preyed on teenage girls. His young targets, she said, were more likely than older women to act recklessly and less likely to report an assault.

Prosecutors said Jon compiled a “hit list” of sexual conquests on his laptop, demonstrating an interest in degrading teenage girls. Jurors watched as excerpts of the list flashed up on a giant projector screen in the courtroom, detailing sex acts, naming girls and giving ages as young as 15. The list, which the defense described as a fantasy, does not include any of the alleged victims in the case.

Young told jurors that rape is notoriously underreported and that many of Jon’s victims failed to notify law enforcement because they feared they would not be believed. It was Jon, she added, who initiated contact with some of the women after the assaults, not the victims.

And she urged jurors to focus on similarities in the testimony of the alleged victims.

“This cannot be coordinated by some conspiracy by girls talking online,” she said. “He’s a predator who feeds on the weaker ones around him.”

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jack.leonard@latimes.com


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