SCRANTON, Pa. -- A woman testified Tuesday that a prison guard known as "Pretty Boy George" coerced her into performing a sex act on him while he stood outside her cell at a scandal-ridden Pennsylvania prison nearly a decade ago.
George McHale, 51, is the first of seven former guards to head to trial on charges of sexually abusing female inmates at Lackawanna County Prison. They were charged last February after a grand jury found what it described as a culture of sexual coercion and cover-up at the jail in Scranton.
A 49-year-old woman told jurors Tuesday that McHale made her fondle him through a slot in the cell door. She said she didn't tell anyone at the prison because she was afraid of retaliation.
The defense called the woman a liar, hinting she had motive to falsely accuse McHale because she had been a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit against Lackawanna County. The woman was subsequently dismissed from the civil case because the statute of limitations expired.
But the woman didn't waver from her account, barely concealing her anger during cross-examination.
"You can scoff all you want," she told defense attorney Joseph Toczydlowski.
The accuser has bounced in and out of jail for stealing to support a cocaine addiction. She pleaded guilty in December to receiving stolen property and awaits sentencing. She testified that she was more recently diagnosed with kleptomania, or a compulsion to steal, and said the stress of her ordeal has exacerbated it.
The woman grew increasingly combative as Toczydlowski pressed her on her criminal background, declaring: "I don't understand what relevance this as to my being abused and assaulted in the Lackawanna County Prison."
The Associated Press does not generally identify people who say they have been sexually assaulted.
When he announced the charges last year, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said a "persistent culture of abuse" had plagued the 850-inmate prison for more than a decade. The abuse was widely known, he said, broadly hinting at a cover-up. He said complaints were routinely ignored.
Lackawanna County officials downplayed the problem, insisting that officials had worked "diligently over the years" to ensure inmate safety.
On Tuesday, the woman described for jurors the assault she said took place around the holidays in late 2009.
The woman had been placed in solitary confinement for complaining about another guard who had been screaming at her for sleeping through a fire drill. She described solitary as "maddening, emotionally maddening," and said she was desperate to get out.
So when McHale ordered her to fondle him, "I complied," she testified. "I wanted to shower. I wanted to eat. I wanted my mail. I wanted to get out of there."
The woman said she didn't report the assault to prison authorities because she was afraid they'd take her privileges away — and because it wouldn't have done any good.
"If I said anything, they wouldn't do anything about it anyway," she said. "They didn't do anything about anything, ever."
The cell next door was empty, she said, and the prison had no cameras in that section. The jury will be permitted to convict McHale based on the woman's testimony alone if they find her account credible.
A friend of the accuser, Pamela Nurse, testified the woman once told her that "she was forced to do inappropriate things of a sexual nature" at the prison. She said the woman named her abuser as "Pretty Boy." The accuser testified earlier that McHale was known as "Pretty Boy George."
Toczydlowski said during his opening statement that McHale didn't go into the unit where the alleged incident took place at all that week. He said the case is based on "unsubstantiated, uncorroborated, old and sometimes contradictory evidence."
On cross-examination, he sought to highlight several subtle inconsistencies in her account Tuesday and what she told a grand jury about the assault.
This story has been corrected to show the woman testified Tuesday, not Monday.