Eleven years after pop-star sensation Michael Jackson was acquitted of child molestation charges following a 14 week trial that commanded worldwide media attention, accuser Gavin Arvizo appeared once again in court — chiefly as a character witness for his brother, Star, who was on trial in Charles County Circuit Court Thursday and Friday for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend in October.
Facing two counts of second degree assault, Star David Arvizo, 25, of Lorton, Va., was acquitted as charged after a jury returned its verdict Friday evening. Star, who was a critical witness in the 2005 Jackson trial, was accused of attacking his former girlfriend on Halloween night, about a week after he was alleged to have violently grabbed her as she tried to exit his car.
The state’s case relied primarily on testimony from the alleged victim, 21, and her mother, the 911 call recording from Halloween and several photographs that showed bruising on the woman’s arms and legs.
However, the woman’s creditability was perhaps tarnished under cross examination by defense attorney Rand Lucey, who told jurors she was overbearing and had a propensity for fabricating stories to get what she wanted. Her testimony was also damaged by the conflicting, lurid and often out-of-turn account given by Star.
“Domestic violence is a serious thing; no one here is saying it’s not,” Lucey said in opening statements. “I’m not going to take any satisfaction in telling you that [she] is lying.”
“This is a story you’re going to hear today,” he continued. “She likes to tell stories; she likes to make things up. Whatever she needs to do,” adding that she was unhappy because she felt their relationship was not moving toward marriage and often accused him of cheating.
Assistant State’s Attorneys Constance Kopelman and Brandon Northington first called the alleged victim to the stand.
She and Star met through catholicmatch.com in July 2014 and soon began dating. Their relationship went well at first, she testified, but after a few months it became “heated, aggressive and violent.” She said it started with him restraining her arms, not letting her leave when she wanted. Other times, when they were out in public, she said he would squeeze her hard on the leg underneath the table if he did not like what she was saying. These incidents of physical aggression occurred “maybe a couple times a month.”
Despite this, “we were really committed to each other,” she said, adding that they talked of marriage and wanted to continue working to improve their relationship.
In an Oct. 25 incident, they were in a parking lot next to an abandoned restaurant near Dick’s Sporting Goods in Waldorf. She had followed him there in a separate car, she testified, because they were going to go shopping for Halloween costumes at the St. Charles Towne Center mall. At the parking lot, she got into his car and they soon began arguing after she found what she believed was marijuana in a folded piece of paper.
“I became really upset and started to question Mr. Arvizo about it,” she said. When she tried to get out of his car, he tried to grab her to pull her back in, scratching her back and hips with his nails. She then got into her own car and locked the doors, she said. Though, she eventually forgave him and did not tell anyone about what had happened.
The more egregious allegation came on Oct. 31 when they attended a Halloween party at the Port Tobacco Restaurant near the marina. After they both had several drinks, they began arguing again, she testified. Star had been talking to a couple of men who went to high school with her, and she said she did not like their reputation and had known them to be involved with drugs. The argument got heated and Star insisted that they leave, she said, but “I wasn’t comfortable with either one of us driving … He had been heavily drinking that night.”
He kept trying to nudge her outside and she eventually agreed to go talk privately in his car, she testified, “and it got heated again.” She tried to go back into the bar, but he came running after her, forcibly grabbing her arm and dragging her into the car. When asked if anyone saw this, she explained that he had parked in an area with an obstructed view from the bar’s entrance.
Despite her pleading for him not to, he started driving, she said. Afraid that something might happen, she called her mother and left the line open so she could hear what was going on. In addition to being drunk, she indicated that Star was using his cell phone while he drove, so she grabbed it and threw it into the back seat as they continued to yell at each other. “I was begging for him to let me out,” she said.
When she eventually reached into the back seat to get his phone, he grabbed her neck and slammed her head into the center console and put her into a headlock, she testified.
“At first I thought it was a butt dial,” the mother testified as she began to cry. “I heard her pleading to be let out of the car … He was saying, ‘Shut the [expletive] up, [expletive]. You’re a stupid [expletive].’”
She described hearing him yell at her, but then it became silent. At one point, she said, she could hear her daughter saying that she couldn’t breathe. “It sounded like they were in the car because I could hear road noise,” she continued.
When she got out of the headlock, she said, she threw his phone out the window. Star then pulled over and told her to get out, and she did.
The woman then read his license plate number to her mom before hanging up to call 911. “I thought, thank God she’s still alive.”
The prosecutors played the 911 recording for the jury. In it, the woman could be heard crying hysterically as she talked to a dispatcher. “He hurt me really bad,” she said, adding that he had put her in a chokehold and that she couldn’t breathe. “… He’s very drunk; I don’t want him driving. My arm hurts so bad.”
During cross examination, Lucey said the alleged victim’s testimony was inconsistent with the written statement she provided when filing for criminal charges. He said she exaggerated how the couple exited the bar, writing in the complaint that he was aggressively pulling her outside, while testifying that he only gave her “light pushes or nudges.” Lucey also pointed out that — at a crowded bar with a long line of people waiting to get in — no one seemed to notice Star allegedly chasing down and pulling a disheveled woman into his car.
Also damaging the woman’s credibility, Lucey revealed she had seemingly pretended to be a victim of a terrorist attack after Star broke up with her via text message on Sept. 23. Confronted by this, she explained she had attended the Papal Mass in Washington, D.C., and after mass concluded, she was pushed into a store by a large crowd of people as some kind of chaotic protest broke out nearby.
Lucey read the text messages for the jury to hear. “Star, answer me. I think I’m going to die,” he read. “… They are saying our judgement day is upon us,” adding that there were people outside with guns.
Later she texted, “I am with my mom now; [U.S.] Secret Service saved us.”
Lucey pointed out that if she was willing to fabricate a story about something as serious as a terrorist attack, she would also be willing to lie about an incident of domestic violence.
Star took the stand and gave a much different version of events. While their relationship started off well, he said, “It became very hard on me.”
He said she expected him to drive about 40 miles to her house on a regular basis after he got off work from his labor-intensive construction job, and that they were “constantly on the phone together.” This led him to begin distancing himself from the relationship, which caused her to speculate that he might have been cheating. He said she would show up to his job to make sure he was not talking to other women.
“Most of [the arguments] was just petty stuff …. It later developed to this need that I come see her,” he said. “We’d be yelling at each other … it was becoming very toxic.”
He testified that she would push him, hit him and try to hit him in his testicles when she became angry. “This girl is act first, think later … it was explosive,” he continued. “She was a swimmer in college; girl has a swing on her.”
On multiple occasions Judge Thomas Simpson had to tell Star to stop speaking out of turn. “Sir, when there’s an objection, don’t be editorializing,” he said.
“I’m sorry, I’ve never done this before,” said Star, who later, when questioned about that statement upon cross-examination, explained he had been called as a witness before — but never been on the defense. In the 2005 Jackson trial, he gave several hours of key testimony, including that he had personally seen Jackson abusing his brother.
Regarding the Oct. 25 allegation, Star said that after they went shopping at St. Charles Towne Center, they began kissing in his car. “We started kissing and we started kissing a lot,” he said. When she said she wanted to have sex, “I said alright, let’s go. I got the brand new 2015 Mustang.”
Afterwards, she found a smashed cigarette inside a folded piece of paper and she got upset, he said. After that argument subsided, he said he got a call on his work phone from an architectural firm, which is named after a woman. She tried to answer it, but he would not let her. He demonstrated from the stand how he snatched the phone back from her, causing another argument as she thought he was hiding something from her. She then got into her car and started chasing after him as he drove to the a movie theater to drop off a car title to his brother, Gavin.
Gavin, who had been waiting outside the theater for Star, later testified that he saw her parked behind his brother that day, a detail that was completely absent from the alleged victim’s testimony.
Regarding the Oct. 31 incident, Star testified that he had parked right in front of the bar, which would have been in plain sight of anyone waiting in line at the restaurant. After they drank for a while, he testified she led him to his car and they had sex on the passenger seat. Afterwards, they began to argue about their relationship, as they often did, he said. She started hitting him, he said, and he decided to take her home.
As he was driving, he explained that she continued to push and harass him as he tried to ward her off with his free hand. He had been using the GPS navigation on his cell phone to drive her home, he said, when she grabbed it off a magnetic strip on the dashboard and threw it out the window.
At that, he pulled over at the next side street and told her to get out. He returned to the area where his phone had fallen and searched for it for about 20 minutes before giving up, he testified. He had thought to go back to pick her up, but he could see police lights now in the distance. Asked why he did not return, he admitted, “I was intoxicated, a little intoxicated,” and did not want to get a DUI.
“I admit it’s not the most chivalrous thing I’ve done,” he said.
After Star’s testimony, Gavin was called to the stand and spoke highly of his brother. “He is very peaceful. He’s kind of a laid back guy,” he said. “I know him to be very honest.” Gavin, who had lived with Star’s girlfriend’s family for eight months when he first moved to the area, testified that the alleged victim is “pretty violent,” adding that “she’s not a very honest person,” and that he has never seen Star put his hands on her, but has seen her put her hands on him.
In closing arguments, Northington told the jury not to fall for the distraction tactics of the defense. “The defense’s case was full of smoke and mirrors,” he said. “Don’t be distracted ... she was very consistent in her testimony. See through the smoke.”
Lucey told the jurors to compare Star’s testimony to the alleged victim’s. “Did he hold anything back?” he asked. “He told you every last detail as to what happened.” Lucey also emphasized that while she had testified to being grabbed by her neck and slammed into the center console, there was no bruising on her neck or head.
Kopelman rebutted by labeling the defense as “classic victim-blaming.” She continued, “Listen to her emotions, ladies and gentlemen. Those are raw emotions ... Pulling her hair, squeezing her leg too hard when she was saying the wrong thing.”
Kopleman also pointed out that according to Star’s testimony, they had sex in a parking spot right in front of the crowded bar. “It’s preposterous,” she said. “It doesn’t make any sense ... It’s a load of you-know-what.”
After two days of trial, the jury returned a not guilty verdict on both counts after deliberating until about 9 p.m. on Friday.
Star had initially been charged with first degree assault, reckless endangerment and three counts of second degree assault by way of criminal summons in November. When applying for criminal charges, the woman had further alleged that on July 4, 2015, Star had pulled out a handgun, placed the barrel on her head and mocked her, saying, “say a prayer” and “any last words,” according to her written statement. However, the state only pursued two counts of second degree assault, dropping the other charges when the case was transferred from district court to circuit court.
“After almost a year, I’m relieved to finally be exonerated of these false accusations,” Star told the Maryland Independent through his attorney, “and I’m glad the truth came out at trial.”