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Teen holds firm to rape claim

In the panic of the moment, when she realized she was being raped, the 16-year-old girl tried to decide the best course of defense. She could run, but her attacker seemed stronger. The man, a stranger who seemed about her age, might kill her, she worried.

If she stayed in the woods and endured the horror, she might at least get out alive.

It was a dilemma she never saw coming when she sneaked out of her home early July 6, 2002, to meet up with an older friend, according to her court testimony Thursday morning.

The young woman, whose name is being withheld by the Times because of the nature of the incident, gave this account Thursday during the first day of trial for the man she says raped her.

Freddie Ray Bruce, 21, has been charged with three counts of sexual battery in the case.

If convicted, he faces up to 45 years in prison, 15 years for each count.

His attorney, Jim Cummins, told jurors no crime was committed. The sex, he said, was consensual and suggested by the girl. If anything, his client, then 19, was the victim of battery and unlawful detainment when citizens held him to wait for law enforcement after the incident, Cummins argued.

After the encounter in question, the girl was picked up by the friend she had been waiting for, and she told him she had been raped. Together, they saw Bruce near the Wal-Mart parking lot off Croft Avenue in Inverness. Steven Kimbrough, the friend, testified Thursday that he chased Bruce into the store's lobby and held him in a headlock.

Wal-Mart employees then guarded Bruce until Citrus County sheriff's deputies arrived, according to testimony.

That much the prosecution and defense agreed on. But what happened before the foot chase was portrayed much differently by Assistant State Attorney Milan "Bo" Samargya and the victim.

They said she was walking to meet her friend near the Shell gas station at Croft and State Road 44 when she bumped into Bruce, whom she had never met. She struck up a brief conversation and then took off running back toward home to try to find her friend.

Bruce followed her, she said.

"I heard his pants rubbing against each other," she testified.

In a flash, she said, he grabbed her from behind and began sexually assaulting her. She screamed.

"He said, "Be quiet, and I won't hurt you,' " the young woman told the jury.

Then he led her to the woods, where he took off her shorts and underwear. She tried to tell him she was only 13, thinking he might stop. Instead, she said, he raped her repeatedly.

Before he ran from the scene, she said, Bruce took her cell phone.

Cummins questioned her account of details on cross-examination, pointing out what he said were discrepancies between the testimony she gave Thursday and the deposition she gave last November. Did she really remember the face of the man she was accusing or did she just identify him because he was sitting in the courtroom? he asked.

Had she been dragged into the woods or did she walk? Was she sure oral sex had been performed on her? he asked.

Cummins argued the girl had initiated the conversation about sex with Bruce after she became angry that Kimbrough had not shown up at their meeting place. Then, Cummins said, she made up the story about being raped as an excuse for why she had been in the woods with another man.

"She was scared that (Kimbrough) caught her so she said she'd been raped," the defense attorney said during his opening statement.

Both the victim and Bruce told detectives they had never seen each other before that night. Bruce admitted to having intercourse with the girl during a taped interview with detectives later that night.

Cummins said his client had previous injuries that affected his ability to communicate and was "enticed and convinced to tell the law enforcement officers what they wanted to hear."

The girl, soft-spoken through much of her initial testimony, became angry when Cummins tried to frame her as a liar. She adamantly rejected his accusations, then apologized for her attitude toward the defense attorney.

But, she explained, "I don't understand why you would defend a rapist."

Bruce has no history of sex crimes, records show.

He was convicted last year of larceny. In April, he was charged with attempting to escape from the Citrus County jail.

The trial resumes at 9 a.m. today.

_ Colleen Jenkins can be reached at 860-7303 or cjenkinssptimes.com.

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