Aspen developer trial: Teens say they watched alleged rape from bushes
DENVER — For the two teenage boys watching, something about the interaction between the younger married man and the older single woman was amiss.
They’d just seen the 14-year-old boy’s aunt and the man, whose wife and three children socialized mere feet away, lock arms and walk down a garden path toward the darkness at the end where the Japanese lanterns ran out.
“That’s weird and suspicious,” the 14-year-old said to his 13-year-old friend. “(I thought) why were they so close to each other walking up the path?”
The married man was Aspen developer and hedge fund manager Nikos Hecht, now 48, who was on vacation in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, with his family. The woman was Suzanna Dailey, now 68, who was on vacation that evening of March 25, 2014, with her sister and her sister’s family.
Dailey is suing Hecht in U.S. District Court in Denver, alleging that he raped her that night at the end of the garden path.
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The two boys — who are now juniors in high school — did not appear Wednesday in U.S. District Judge R. Brooke Jackson’s courtroom. Instead, Dailey’s lawyers, headed by Jennifer Altman, played the boys’ videotaped depositions from October 2016 for the jury of five women and two men.
Dailey testified Tuesday that after chivalrously offering to walk her through the vegetable gardens of a fancy farm-to-table restaurant, Hecht grabbed her by the back of the neck, forcefully kissed her, then threw her to the ground and sexually assaulted her.
Hecht has not testified yet in the trial, though his lawyer promised jurors during an opening statement Tuesday that he would. Hecht’s attorney also offered a version of events far different than Dailey’s, which included a consensual sexual encounter between the two that was prompted by a flirtatious and dirty-talking Dailey.
But what neither Dailey nor Hecht knew during whatever happened between the two of them that night was that Dailey’s 14-year-old nephew and his 13-year-old friend were watching them from behind a bush 10 to 20 feet away.
At more than an hour and 45 minutes, Dailey’s nephew’s deposition testimony was, by far, the longer and more detailed of the two. The mop-haired teen, who at the time of the deposition was 17, snacked on bowls of popcorn and pretzels as he related what he and his best friend since first grade stumbled onto that night.
He said he saw Hecht offer his arm to Dailey, and watched the two of them walk away from the main group at the restaurant, which included members of three current or former Aspen families. When they were about 25 yards away, Dailey’s nephew turned to his friend.
“We both had the same thought of wanting to investigate,” he said.
The boy had been playing with and keeping an eye on Hecht’s young son at the time, so he handed him off to another teen nearby and they took off, he said. They didn’t follow Hecht and Dailey up the garden path, though. Instead they looped around by moonlight through the cabbage fields in their bare feet until they came upon the couple about 60 yards up the path, he said. Both boys estimated that Dailey and Hecht were out of sight for about a minute and a half.
The 14-year-old said he and his friend crouched behind a bush and could “see perfectly” but could not be seen.
He said he saw his aunt laying on the ground on her back with her arms above her head and her cargo shorts around her ankles. Hecht was first upright on his knees looking down at her, then was directly on top of her with his pants pulled down to his knees.
He said he saw Hecht thrust into Dailey “around 10 times,” but did not witness actual penetration. The entire incident lasted about three minutes.
“We both could hear grunts from Mr. Hecht,” he said, though he heard nothing from his aunt.
The boy said later in the deposition he loves his aunt and would have done something to stop the incident if he thought she was being attacked. He said he assumed it was a consensual act.
“I don’t recall there being any signs from her that would put fear in her voice or actions,” he said.
The other boy also said he thought he was observing consensual sex and would have intervened if he’d thought anything violent was occurring.
At the time, the boys whispered to each other they thought the two were having sex, but soon high-tailed it out of there before either Hecht or Dailey rose from the ground, the 14-year-old said.
“Me and (his best friend) were flustered because we were scared he might see us,” he said.
The boys circled back around through the fields and returned to the dinner pavilion. The party soon began to break up, but he said he didn’t say goodbye to either his aunt or Hecht.
“I was just like weirded out or freaked out,” he said. “It was just really effed up to see that kind of stuff.
“The broad spectrum of why someone would do that with their kids there, their wife there and Suzy with her 90-year-old mother there, and for a 14-year-old kid to see was big.”
He said he went up to his mother, Dailey’s sister, and told her he had just seen something that involved Hecht and Dailey and that “they were an item.”
“I didn’t know how to break it to my mom,” he said.
His mother, Jeanne Andlinger, testified earlier Wednesday that she was busy trying to get her elderly mother and husband ready to leave when her son, who was somewhat agitated, told her he’d seen Hecht and Dailey walking down the path arm in arm.
“That’s not an item,” she said she told him and continued preparing to leave.
However, the two boys approached her again before the crew left the restaurant and her son said he really had something to tell her, Andlinger said.
“I saw them,” she said he told her. “I saw them doing it.”
That got her attention, Andlinger said.
“I looked at him in disbelief,” she testified. “‘Did you see a bare bottom?’ I said. He said, ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘Whoa, something has gone wrong.’”
Her son said he told her not to tell anyone.
“I remember thinking, ‘I’m gonna tell someone,’” he said in the deposition.
Almost immediately upon getting into a van full of teenagers who’d been at the gathering for the drive back to his hotel, he spilled the beans, he said.
“We were all stunned and shocked,” he said. “And we were laughing.”
The next day he said he talked to his mom again and asked her a question.
“‘Is this normal?’” he said he asked. “I didn’t know if it was normal.”
Andlinger testified that her sister’s demeanor was different after she returned to the table that night.
“I saw her sitting at the picnic table like a stone,” she said.
Dailey said she had something to tell her, but Andlinger told her they would talk first thing in the morning. Andlinger, in fact, didn’t hear about the alleged attack until the next morning, though she said she didn’t think at the time the sex had been consensual.
Hecht’s lawyer, Marci Labranche, hammered her on cross-examination about that decision. Why, Labranche asked, if you cared so deeply for your sister, didn’t you go to her that night? A juror asked a question, through the judge, along those lines.
Andlinger said she was worried about her son, worried about her sister, worried about leaving the restaurant with her mother and husband and worried about the lengthy discussion with her sister she knew she had to have.
“I regret not going to her room (that night),” she said. “It wasn’t because I didn’t care about what took place. I was overwhelmed by the situation.”
In the end, she said her sister is a strong person and she “knew Suzy was going to be OK.”
The trial continues today.