Opening arguments paint different stories in trial of Aspen-area developer
The Aspen Times
DENVER — A 68-year-old Florida woman who claims Aspen developer Nikos Hecht raped her in Mexico three years ago testified Tuesday that the experience destroyed her life.
“I don’t have the desire to participate in life like I always have,” said Suzanna Dailey. “I don’t look forward to the future and that makes me so angry.
“I just don’t feel alive. I’m fearful I’m going to go on like this.”
Dailey filed a civil lawsuit against Hecht, a wealthy hedge fund manager and member of a prominent Aspen family, in March 2016, claiming he sexually assaulted her not far from his then-wife and children after dinner at a chic farm-to-table restaurant in Cabo San Lucas.
Hecht, 48, has made no public statements about the case, but his lawyer on Tuesday did not deny a sexual encounter occurred. However, she related a vastly different version of events than Dailey’s that included her flirting with him, talking dirty and initiating the sexual encounter.
“This is a consensual act between consenting adults,” said Marci Labranche, one of Hecht’s lawyers. “He knew it was wrong, but it was consensual.”
Dailey was the first witness to take the stand in U.S. District Court in Denver, when she told a jury of five women and two men what happened from her point of view on the evening of March 25, 2014.
She said she first met Hecht the evening before, after her sister ran into Hecht’s wife on the beach and invited the family over for cocktails. The two women knew each other because their children attended Aspen Country Day School together, Dailey said.
At the palatial Hecht home in Cabo, Dailey said she met Hecht briefly but spoke mainly to her sister and Hecht’s wife that evening. The only interaction they had, she said, was when Hecht saw her walking up a flight of stairs and complimented her on “being fit.”
Dailey testified that she did not flirt with Hecht at the time, did not walk around the home exploring and did not compliment him on his home and position in life as alleged during an opening statement by Hecht’s attorney.
At the restaurant — called Flora Farms — the next night, the group of more than 20 included Dailey’s sister and her sister’s family, Hecht’s family and members of another prominent Aspen family, Dailey said. The atmosphere was light and she was taking pictures and enjoying herself, she said.
“It was just a fun family night,” Dailey said. “I don’t get many of those.”
After dinner, Hecht approached her and asked if she’d like to see the gardens.
“I said, ‘Well, sure,’” Dailey testified. “That’s what Flora Farms is famous for.”
Hecht offered his arm, Dailey took it and they began walking down the garden path, she said. Hecht told her the story of his grandfather coming to America from Germany, which she said she found inspiring.
Near the end of the path, Hecht turned to face her and put his right hand on the back of her neck, she said.
“He pulled me into him and put his mouth over mine,” Dailey said. “There was nothing romantic about it. He took my right hand and put it on (his groin) … and the next thing I knew I was on my back.
“I knew I was in trouble.”
Hecht then pulled her shorts down, got on top of her and raped her, Dailey said, adding that she hadn’t been sexually active in a long time.
“The pain was like a knife,” she said. “It was the most pain I’ve ever been in.”
Dailey said she told Hecht to stop twice, but he didn’t. She tried to push herself away, but could not. She said she panicked and was unable to scream.
“I felt terror,” Dailey said. “I felt shock, disbelief, I felt frozen. I just wanted it over.”
Afterward, Hecht got up, pulled his pants up and walked away, leaving her on the ground. Dailey said she sat on the ground “like a piece of garbage” for a few moments before pulling herself together and returning to the dinner table, where she “sat there in total shock.”
A few minutes later, she approached Hecht, who sat next to his wife, because she wanted to confront him. However, she tapped him on the shoulder twice and he refused to turn around, Dailey said.
She said she decided the next morning not to call Mexican police and not to go to a hospital because she didn’t want her family dragged into such a situation. Her sister later told her that her 14-year-old nephew and his 13-year-old friend were hiding in the bushes and witnessed the incident.
“I felt ashamed,” Dailey said.
Dailey testified that she did finally report the assault to Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo after her sister called her and told her to read a story on the front page of The Aspen Times. That story, from July 2015, was about Hecht being charged with assault and domestic violence related to an incident with his then-girlfriend, though U.S. District Judge R. Brooke Jackson has ordered those facts to be kept from the jury.
Dailey also said she reported the incident to then-District Attorney Sherry Caloia, who told the Times in March 2016 that she wouldn’t investigate an alleged crime that occurred outside of her jurisdiction.
Dailey also told jurors she didn’t sue Hecht for the money. She said she supports herself, is financially stable and receives some assistance from her wealthy sister and brother in law.
“I filed the lawsuit because I wanted to stand up to Mr. Hecht,” she said. “I didn’t want to remain a victim at my age.”
Hecht’s lawyers are scheduled to cross-examine Dailey this morning.
However, Labranche painted a picture of Dailey during her opening statement that was the polar opposite of the one drawn by Jennifer Altman and Aryeh Kaplan, Dailey’s lawyers.
By Labranche’s accounting, Dailey flirted so strongly with Hecht during the cocktail party the night before the alleged assault, his wife and his personal chef teased him about it. She said Dailey complimented Hecht on having such a beautiful home “at your age” and made other fawning comments.
“She was intrigued by him — his youth, his prestige, his wealth,” Labranche said.
Dailey wore the same pair of shorts to the restaurant as to the cocktail party because of Hecht’s comment about her fitness, Labranche said. She also did her hair and makeup “getting ready for him,” she said.
Hecht’s version of the story is that Dailey came up behind him on the garden path, placed her hand on his shoulder and led him to “where they didn’t think they can be seen,” Labranche said. That’s when Dailey allegedly made an obscene reference to her own genitalia, which Hecht was not expecting, “and the next thing you know Ms. Dailey is kissing him,” she said.
At that point, Dailey unzipped Hecht’s pants, got down on her knees and performed oral sex on him, Labranche said. She then took off her own pants, touched herself and tried to have sex with Hecht but could not, she said.
Labranche also claimed that three eyewitnesses to the incident corroborate the fact that it was consensual.
The first was Hecht’s chef, who saw Dailey perform the oral sex, she said. The second was Dailey’s nephew, now 15, who reported seeing no signs of a struggle and, in fact, giggled about what he’d seen with other children present, Labranche said.
“I don’t recall hearing any signs from her that would put fear in her voice or her actions,” Dailey’s nephew said in a video clip played by Labranche during her opening statement.
The third person who saw no signs of an assault was the nephew’s friend, she said.
Hecht knows that having consensual sex with Dailey “was completely wrong” and “he regrets it to this day,” Labranche said. But the case — in which Dailey is asking for millions of dollars — is about defending his name and not merely paying someone off just because he can, she said.
“This is a case about bad decision that were made,” Labranche said. “This is not about rape.”