Kolibas trial to begin next week (3/18/10)

March 18, 2010

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

The trial of a Williston man accused of drugging and molesting a 13-year-old girl is set to begin next week.

Jury drawing is slated for Monday, March 22, with the trial starting on Tuesday in Vermont District Court in Burlington. Barring a last minute plea deal, the trial is expected to last one week and end March 30.

Robert Kolibas, 51, is charged with five felonies in the case: lewd and lascivious conduct with a child, giving a drug to a minor, unlawful restraint and two counts of aggravated assault by administering a drug. If convicted on all counts, Kolibas could face a prison sentence of up to 35 years.

Prosecutors say Kolibas gave the then 13-year-old girl and one of his daughters a sedative-laced “smoothie” drink during a sleepover at his home in May 2009. He then allegedly molested the girl while she slept next to his daughter.

After alerting her mother, the alleged victim told authorities about the encounter. Police then began an investigation, but Kolibas fled to Maine before police filed any charges. Maine authorities arrested Kolibas on a warrant a few days after the alleged incident. In June, Kolibas was returned to Vermont, where he was arraigned.

Witnesses in the upcoming trial will include experts on sedatives and Fletcher Allen Health Care professionals who dealt with the alleged victim and police during the investigation. Kolibas’ wife and daughter, as well as the alleged victim, are due to testify. It’s unclear whether Kolibas will take the stand in his defense.

On Wednesday morning, Kolibas appeared in court with his public defenders for a pre-trial conference. Prosecutors and the defense ironed out testimonies that could be included in trial, as well as a few other details.

Of note, Kolibas’ lawyers expressed concern over the prosecution’s plans to put on the stand six witnesses who claim to have felt dizzy and sleepy after drinking smoothies during previous sleepovers at the Kolibas home. Prosecutors want to bring the witnesses in to show the jury there were “prior bad acts” committed by Kolibas.

Kolibas’ lawyers asked Judge Michael Kupersmith not to allow the testimony, saying the statements were made in retrospect and there is no proof the witnesses, all female minors, were ever drugged.

“This just could have been mass hysteria brought on by these charges,” said Margaret Jansch, one of Kolibas’ attorneys.

Deputy State’s Attorney Susan Hardin said the inclusion of the six witnesses shows Kolibas proved intent in drugging the alleged victim and he made no mistake in accidently giving the girl a drug-laced smoothie, as he contended in a letter to his wife.

“It is critical that witnesses are going to come in and say, “It happened to me, it happened to me, it happened to me,” Hardin said.

After hearing from both sides, Kupersmith said he would allow the six witnesses to take the stand next week.

Kupersmith also set a cut-off date for any potential plea deal. Kolibas can plead guilty to the charges, but he must do so by March 19. Hardin told the judge there is a deal on the table but, so far, Kolibas has not accepted it.