The prosecution won a key ruling today in a pre-trial hearing ahead of the trial of Larry Anthony Cavallaro, the now-74-year-old former Flagler Beach gallery owner who faces a first degree felony rape charge involving a 42-year-old woman at his home in Flagler Beach in December 2017.
Cavallaro had invited the alleged victim–who for clarity’s sake will be referred to in this article as Jane, a pseudonym–for a drink the afternoon of Dec. 17, 2017. Jane went to the beachfront house with her friend 27-year-old friend Jill (also a pseudonym). Both women had been at work in a nearby restaurant right before that. Both women experienced the same symptoms after they drank some of what Cavallaro served them. Jill left after perhaps an hour. Jane stayed. Cavallaro had suggested she take a nap before she could drive again. She claims she later woke up to find Cavallaro sexually assaulting her.
Warren Lindsey, who is representing Cavallaro, argued that Jill could testify about the time the two women got to Cavallaro’s house, where they sat on the deck, having drinks, having cheese, when she left. But that she could not testify about her personal experience after having the drink, even though it was similar to that of Jane: both women got quickly disoriented and impaired, allegedly because Cavallaro had spiked their drinks with s substance other than alcohol. Assistant State Attorney Melissa Clark argued that Jill should be allowed to testify about her personal reaction to the drink.
Circuit Judge Terence Perkins agreed.
“You would agree that if [Jill] had said well, I went to the bathroom, but on my way back, I saw the defendant putting cocaine into our drinks, she would be able to testify to that, right?” the judge told the defense lawyer. “If she can testify to what she saw, why can’t she testify to what she felt?”
Lindsey was objecting to Jill describing how she felt even after she left Cavallaro’s house. “We don’t know if it was the same substance. We don’t know if it was from the bad Cuban sandwich earlier,” Lindsay argued. “We don’t know if it was from something else that she did. She was having a bad day. Because the problem is we have no medical, no toxicological, no chemical connection. People get sick on things all the time. People don’t feel good on things all the time, especially if they’re having a bad day. And so it invites complete conjecture, conjecture and speculation.”
Clark argued that Jill has drunk alcohol before and never gotten that sick, blacked out or were physically sick the next day–experiences “strikingly similar” to those of Jane. “It’s clear that it’s tied to what they were consuming with Mr. Cavallaro. There’s no evidence that either one of them felt anything prior to consuming these rumrunners with Mr. Cavallaro.” The effects started at the same time.
To exclude Jill’s testimony on the claim that the two experiences cannot necessarily be connected would be “like saying lightning struck both of these women and what are the chances of that judge?” Clark said. “It’s clear that you can put together they consume rumrunners, they consume about the same amount, and they have the exact same symptoms for a reason. It’s because of what was in the drink, and I think the jury should be able to hear that and that’s what I’m asking to do.”
Perkins saw the matter as a matter of admissibility, “and evidence is generally admissible if it’s relevant,” he said.
The prosecution’s victory was significant on various levels: it not only provides a third pair of eyes on a situation, diminishing (and in fact, for that portion of the evening until Jill left, eliminating) the he-said-she-said defense. But it also allows Jill to describe what had been a visceral experience in the literal sense of the term. Jill testified today, coming across as direct, unassuming, poised and relatable, making her a powerful witness for the prosecution–and a liability for the defense.
It was also the first time since the case began that testimony directly from that hour–from the time when the two women showed up at Cavallaro’s house to the time Jill left–took place in open court, opening a window on that hour in vivid details.
As Jill described it, the trio had sat on a back porch. All three drank the rum runner Cavallaro had poured them in three glasses. The women drank slowly–so slowly that Cavallaro remarked on the fact, and at one point took their drinks–their glasses still half full, or half empty–and went inside for 10 to 15 minutes, coming out with a cheese plate, then again with two more full drinks for the women. In the meantime the two women had briefly gone to the bathroom, but they had not socialized with him in the kitchen, or seen what he was doing. He did not have a drink when he brought out their second one.
“The second drink we both had less than half,” Jill said.
“At some point do either you or [Jane] attempt to get up from your seats?”
“[Jane] attempted to get out of her seat at one point,” about 15 minutes after drinking from the second drink. She fell to her knees when she did so, “kind of like really fell down hard… initially I kind of laughed. I thought, you know, it’s just like an accident, and then it just didn’t seem like she was okay after that.” Jill herself had started to feel “uneasy.” She felt it was time to go. She told Jane they needed to leave. They get up to leave. “At this point [Jane] seems very intoxicated, and not able to walk well. Definitely incapable of operating a vehicle.”
“When you say she seemed very intoxicated. Can you sort of explain what it was that you observed?” Clark asked.
“Just kind of stumbling,” Jill answered. “She wasn’t really able to really stand up.”
“And again, you’d only observe her drink I think you said half of the first one, maybe half of the second?”
Cavallaro suggested to Jane to take a rest in a bedroom. She did, getting into bed–fully clothed, as Jill recalled. Jill felt something was off, “something was wrong, which is why I kept stating I needed to leave.” But she has no memory after that, until she woke up in her boyfriend’s house. Jill was sick that night, vomiting twice, and so sick the next day at work (she waited table at a restaurant) that her boss told her to go back home. She’d drank alcohol before, frank rum runners, never gotten sick. It would take her four or five drinks to feel the effects. But she had never been so drunk as to black out, as she had that evening.
Both women had other places to be that night: Jill had to pick up her daughter. Jane had plans to have dinner with her husband. Cavallaro was not aware. “So my argument is that he knowingly created these very intoxicating beverages that I would argue had more than just alcohol in it, but clearly had a lot of alcohol,” Clark argued to the judge. “That’s why [Jill] had such debilitating effects. And the big difference as to why nothing more happen with her is because there was no opportunity for that that opportunity ended when [Jill] said I’ve got to go, and she had to be picking up her daughter and had to leave that residence. And obviously he was able to convince both women, [Jane] is too drunk to drive, she should stay here and ultimately, it sort of went from there with respect to what happened.”
In March, the defense sought to exclude detectives’ recorded interviews with Cavallaro. The Perkins ruled the interviews would be admissible.
The judge has yet to rule on another key matter: The defense wants to exclude from trial expert testimony about the alleged presence of certain substances in the alleged victim’s blood and urine. The alleged victim went to the hospital on Dec. 18, 2017, believing she had been raped. Blood and urine samples were collected as part of the examination. Toxicology showed the presence of clonazepam, a sedative, along with cannabis (pot), tertahydrozoline (an eye decongestant), and diphenhydramine (an antihistamine used to treat allergies).
Perkins’s ruling could be a cornerstone of either the defense’s or the prosecution’s case, depending on how he rules. It could then determine whether Cavallaro goes to trial or not. A plea is always possible. But a plea, even to a lesser charge, would be unlikely to exclude prison time. Given Cavallaro’s age, even a relatively mild prison sentence would amount to a life sentence, making the option of a trial more likely: a plea means certain conviction and prison. At trial, the possibility of acquittal is never zero. For a 74-year-old man, the odds favor a trial.