In rape trial of ex-Lincolnville pastor, accuser tells story of abduction through tears, anger
ST. GEORGE — When the prosecutor asked Tuesday how she made a living, the witness didn’t hesitate.
She was an escort.
She advertised her services — dates, sex — on websites like Backpage.com. She posted her cellphone number and photographs of herself in lingerie.
But what happened to her in June 2011 wasn’t anything she would ever offer, she testified on the first day of the trial for 49-year-old Dale Richardson of Summerville, the pastor accused of abducting and raping her at gunpoint.
Richardson’s defense struck the opposite tone: However morally flawed he may be for having sexual fantasies and consulting a prostitute to fulfill them, the former leader of Freedom Free Will Baptist Church in Lincolnville isn’t guilty of kidnapping and first-degree criminal sexual conduct. He faces similar charges in the alleged kidnapping of three other prostitutes, though he’s on trial this week for only one case.
The Post and Courier has not named his accuser because she is an alleged victim of a sexual offense.
The woman set out from her North Charleston home that morning to buy marijuana, then meet several clients at a Quality Inn.
But her life would be forever altered, she said, when a burly man in a white Ford pickup offered her ride as she walked along Midland Park Road. She needed the lift, so she hopped in.
When the man refused to pull into the gas station on Ashley Phosphate Road near the hotel, her destination, she got “scared, very scared,” she said.
The man instead took her to a dirt road off Palmetto Commerce Parkway, where she testified that he snatched her purse and cellphone. He bound her hands with construction tape, she said, and put a blue pillow case adorned with puffy white clouds over her head. He reclined her seat and drove off.
For the next 20 or 30 minutes, she picked up clues about where the truck was headed. She peered out the window and saw a sign for the Lakes of Summerville subdivision.
The pickup finally stopped, and she said her captor pulled her out. She walked through the door of what investigators later said was the parsonage at Richardson’s church, a mobile home tucked behind the main building.
The woman was raised in a trailer, she said, so she knew she was in one.
“The smell. The smell was horrible,” she said. “It just smelled like a very old trailer.”
Its windows were boarded up. She was ushered into a room with a blue carpet and brown walls. In a corner, a tripod-mounted camera pointed at a cot and a blanket in the center.
The man plucked the pillow case from her head, the woman testified, and pointed his black and chrome pistol at her. He told her to perform oral sex, then intercourse, she said. She had no choice, she said.
Later, she said the man walked her outside, again with the pillow case on her head. She lifted her hands and put her palms together.
“He asked me what I was doing,” she said. “I told him I was praying for my life. ... He told me God doesn’t help people like me.”
The woman wept as she relayed the story to a 14-member jury panel evenly split between men and women.
Earlier, Assistant Solicitor Don Sorenson, the case’s lead prosecutor, had told the jurors that Richardson is a sexual predator. The woman who testified Tuesday was the latest in a series of prostitutes he preyed on, Sorenson alleged. Her case led the police to the others.
It started in January 2010, when the prosecutor said Richardson picked up a hitchhiking prostitute on Rivers Avenue, then raped her on a remote dirt road near Jedburg.
That summer, the prosecutor continued, Richardson picked up a prostitute outside an Ashley Phosphate Road gas station. He tied up the woman, Sorenson said, took her to a mobile home and raped her on a tabletop.
Richardson faces charges of kidnapping and criminal sexual conduct in those case as well. When he will be tried on the other counts, though, wasn’t immediately known.
On each charge, he faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted. He has already spent nearly two years behind bars, but he has been out on bail since late June.
Richardson lost his preaching privileges soon after the allegations became public in July 2011.
“He picked these three victims because of what they were doing,” Sorenson told the jury. “They were not going to contact law enforcement. ... He ultimately thought back then he had the perfect thing going.”
He did, Sorenson said, until he ran into the woman who testified Tuesday.
But Richardson’s defense attorney, Andy Savage of Charleston, peppered the woman with questions during cross-examination.
Her tears became outbursts of anger directed at Savage that prompted 1st Circuit Judge Maite Murphy to step in and calm the witness.
Much of the strife regarded the woman’s observations in Richardson’s truck that were keys leading to his arrest.
Looking under the pillow case, she saw part of a phone number on a business card and Richardson’s last name on a tag dangling from the rearview mirror. She memorized the information, she said, because she had watched “America’s Most Wanted” often during her childhood.
Later that day, her abductor dropped her off in a wooded area of North Charleston and told her walk away without looking back. She ran until she stumbled on workers mowing grass. One called the police.
“He held my hand,” she said. “He told me everything was going to be OK.”
The woman later underwent forensic testing at Medical University Hospital. But when she got home that night, she said she started doing her own inquiry.
She dialed the phone number. She recognized the voice of the man who picked up, then hung up. When she called back, she said a recorded message contained Richardson’s name.
In a Google search, she said she found a picture of him standing in front of his church on Lincolnville Road.
This new information helped lead the police to Richardson and the mobile home, which the Dorchester County Sheriff’s Office searched for evidence less than 24 hours later.
But Savage questioned whether the woman might have remembered his client’s voice because they had spoken before. Her own cellphone records, he said, indicated calls between Richardson and the woman two weeks before the incident.
That morning, Savage added, the records showed text messages between the two about setting up a rendezvous.
But the woman said lots of people contact her for sex. She wouldn’t have agreed to meet someone on a roadside because she wasn’t a prostitute, she insisted — someone who “walks the street for money.” Richardson’s body type also wasn’t to her liking, she said.
“I don’t see fat men,” said the woman with a diminutive figure. “They kind of disgust me.”
Savage peppered the woman with inquiries into why she hadn’t told the North Charleston Police Department more about how she got rid of the marijuana she had bought before the alleged kidnapping before the police came.
He prodded her to label as completely “wrong” the initial police report stating she had been forced into Richardson’s pickup. Officers had inaccurately recorded her account, she said.
Savage told the jury that the woman wasn’t just a “poor, innocent babe” who emerged from the woods that day.
“There’s no question that Dale Richardson is a sinner,” he said. “There’s no question that he has sexual fantasies that women in this community advertise to satisfy.”
But he’s not guilty, Savage said, of raping the woman who tearfully told her story.
The woman fired back at the attorney as she answered his questions with questions: “Why don’t we put you in a truck with a pillow case over your head and (drive) you around?”
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.