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Trauma expert may testify in rape trial

A Hillsborough circuit judge will allow an expert on rape trauma syndrome to testify in the trial of Carl Allison.

That expert is University of Pennsylvania professor Ann W. Burgess, who studied rape victims in the early 1970s and coined the phrase "rape trauma syndrome" for the physical, behavioral and psychological reaction victims may experience.

According to Judge Barbara Fleischer's ruling this week, Burgess' testimony can become part of the state's case against Allison.

Allison, 26, is charged with drugging a woman who accepted a ride from a bar with him and four friends and sexually assaulting her three times last April. Allison's co-defendant, Mark Urbanski, pleaded guilty to reduced charges and will be sentenced next month.

The case has drawn intense media attention because it involved the sons of several prominent families. The incident took place at the home of Urbanski's father, James Urbanski, who retired recently as president and general manager of the Tampa Tribune.

Norman Cannella, Allison's attorney, objected to Burgess' testimony, saying among other things that the existence of symptoms shouldn't be used to prove a rape occurred.

The judge made it clear in her ruling, however, that she won't allow Burgess to testify about whether Burgess believes the woman is telling the truth. The judge must decide whether Burgess qualifies as an expert in order to testify.

According to the judge, Florida courts still haven't decided on the issue of the admissibility of rape trauma syndrome, although similar testimony has been allowed in child sexual abuse cases.

"It is clear that in Florida the admission of expert testimony lies within the sound discretion of the trial court and a court's decision will not be disturbed unless clearly erroneous," she wrote.

In exchange, the defense will be allowed to have psychologists examine the woman to determine whether rape trauma syndrome or some other experience may account for her behavior.

Allison is scheduled to go to trial March 8.