Crime & Courts

Victim describes July 2020 sexual assault to La Salle County jury

Trial begins with opening statements, victim’s testimony

A 72-year-old Seneca woman testified on Tuesday she woke up one day in July 2020 and found her head covered in a blanket and a stranger sexually assaulting her.

A prosecutor also told jurors the woman consented to a sexual assault kit at a nearby hospital and the samples went to a lab. The lab, the prosecutor said, got a hit: Kevin Paulsen, 24, of Seneca.

“We all have nightmares,” Assistant La Salle County State’s Attorney Matt Kidder told Paulsen’s jury during opening statements. “Some we sleep through. Some wake us up.”

Paulsen’s lawyer, Ottawa defense attorney Ryan Hamer, told jurors the state has a tough burden to meet and urged them to listen carefully to the evidence before reaching any conclusions, adding, “We have nothing to prove whatsoever.”

That evidence began Tuesday when the victim described the events of July 24, 2020. That night, she dozed off in a reclining chair after struggling that day with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. She woke and was unable to see her assailant, though she deduced it was a man based in part on the closely-cropped hair and bulky frame with which she struggled.

“That really put me over the edge and I said, ‘I can’t breathe,’ ” the victim testified.

“And what happened next?” Kidder asked.

“He jumped up and ran out the door.”

Under cross-examination by Hamer, the victim acknowledged she told police she “believed” her assailant was a man, of whom she couldn’t get a good look.

It might not matter, depending on whether the jury accepts laboratory analysis linking the test kit to Paulsen, who may have also placed himself at the crime scene in a prior taped visit in La Salle County Jail.

The trial continues Wednesday.