ELLSWORTH — A Hancock County jury deliberated for less than 20 minutes Friday before finding a Southwest Harbor man not guilty of unlawful sexual touching in an incident involving a female friend.
Matthew Pistella, 25, was accused of having illegal contact with the woman after she drove him home from a bar in Ellsworth on April 16, 2015. She reported the incident to Southwest Harbor police two days later. Following an investigation, Pistella was summonsed on a Class D unlawful sexual touching charge on April 28.
In his opening statement, Deputy District Attorney Toff Toffolon told the jury of six men and six women Friday that Pistella and his accuser lived in the same apartment complex. After they returned from the bar, Pistella carried her into his apartment, threw her on a couch and put his hand over her mouth to stop her protests while he began fondling and kissing her, Toffolon said.
“He did stop once she kicked him and was able to get out from under him,” Toffolon said.
Pistella’s attorney, Aaron Fethke, told the jury that this “is clearly a he-said, she-said case” and that they would find it difficult to determine his client is guilty beyond the reasonable doubt standard.
During her testimony, the woman said she met Pistella at the bar after she received an invitation from him by phone. After she had a drink, he asked her to drive him home because he was tired and had been drinking. On the way, Pistella initiated a conversation about sex and sexual practices. She said she cut the conversation short after it became “too intimate.”
At the apartment complex, Pistella picked her up and carried her into his apartment.
“I told him I needed to go home and this was a bad idea,” she said.
She said Pistella ignored her plea and put her on his couch.
“He climbed on top of me while I was on the sofa and pinned me,” she said.
Once she was able to free herself, Pistella apologized, she said.
“He said he couldn’t believe he had done that and he was really sorry,” she said.
Fethke questioned the woman as to why she didn’t report the incident until two days after it occurred, suggesting that her live-in boyfriend was behind the decision to go to police. She disagreed, saying a female friend had urged her to make the report.
“I was hesitant at first,” she said. “I didn’t really want to let it go, but at the same time, I didn’t want to go through all this,” she added, referring to being questioned in court.
On the stand, and questioned by Fethke, Pistella had a different version of what had transpired. He said they were friends who confided in each other, often getting together when her boyfriend was working. At one point, Pistella said, she admitted to having “feelings” for him and that if she wasn’t with her boyfriend, the two might date.
On the drive home from Ellsworth, the woman began to flirt with Pistella, he testified. He described what happened at the apartment as mutual.
“We kissed each other; she kissed me back,” he said. “At that point, she wrapped her legs around me, and I picked her up.”
It was while the pair was on the couch that Pistella began to have reservations, he said.
“Then I realized she had a boyfriend and I sat up,” he said. “I sat back and I apologized. I knew I messed up a really good friendship.”
Pistella said they spoke later and he told her “the mixed signals that were going around confused me.” She seemed fine with the outcome, he said.
Toffolon did not cross-examine Pistella, but in his closing arguments, Toffolon asked the jury to assume that the woman had some romantic interest in Pistella.
“Does that give Mr. Pistella the right to presume they were ready to have rough sex,” he asked. “No.”
Toffolon cited some of the Facebook messages the pair exchanged after the incident, the content of which was introduced into evidence. She wrote, “I was scared you were going to rape me,” Toffolon said. He replied that he had made a huge mistake.
Fethke argued that the woman had “a rocky relationship” with her boyfriend and, by accusing Pistella of criminal conduct, was attempting to cover up what had occurred.
“Her motive was to make sure she wasn’t a cheater to her boyfriend,” Fethke said.
If convicted, Pistella would have faced a sentence of up to one year in jail.