Forensic nurse and social worker testify in Thomas Volpi rape trial




  • In US
  • 2022-06-28 13:21:00Z
  • By Star Beacon, Ashtabula, Ohio

Jun. 28-JEFFERSON - The prosecution continued its case against a former Ashtabula business owner by calling a forensic nurse and a social worker to the witness stand Monday, the fourth day of testimony.

The two witnesses testified as to how they were involved with the alleged victims - ages 15 and 17, at the time.

Thomas Volpi, now 65, was arrested Aug. 14, 2019 after a grand jury issued a 39-count indictment, charging he furnished alcohol and raped and sexually assaulted two underage girls on July 5-6, 2019, at his home and store, according to the indictment.

Coren Grzelak, a registered nurse, testified she was working as a forensic nurse for the Cleveland Clinic on July 6, 2019. At the time, she would see patients at Hillcrest Hospital in Mayfield Heights. She explained how she examined the 15-year-old teen at Hillcrest on July 6, 2019, and how DNA evidence was collected from her body and clothing for the rape kit and sent to the Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI).

In explicit testimony, Grzelak recounted the sex acts the teen told her occurred on July 5-6, 2019 between Volpi and the teen, and between the teen and Volpi's friend, 22-year-old Tiara Babbitt, at Volpi's store.

Grzelak said the teen told her Volpi encouraged them to perform sex acts on each other while he watched and eventually had sexual relations with her on a food preparation counter.

Grzelak said the teen told her she didn't know what to do, and that Volpi kept saying to her, "Doesn't that feel good?"

The teen went on to describe more sexual contact with Volpi back at his house in his bedroom, she said.

"She was very upset and crying throughout the interview," Grzelak said. "We had to take a lot of breaks and consoling."

The teen told Grzelak that during sexual activity in Volpi's bed, he had grabbed her hair and choked her, Grzelak said.

Stacy Violi, a forensic scientist with BCI, testified Thursday on the results of the alleged victims' rape kits. She said Volpi's DNA was discovered on the 15-year-old's underpants, buttocks, private parts and neck. The results of the 17-year-old's rape kit showed Volpi's DNA on her underpants and private parts, Violi said.

Upon cross-examination Monday, defense attorney Bill Livingston of Cleveland, asked Grzelak if the teen showed any signs of a hoarse voice, bruising or swelling of the neck as would be seen if a strangulation had taken place. She said she did not.

Livingston asked if the teen told Grzelak about an alleged sexual encounter with Volpi by the towel closet. Grzelak said, "She did not."

Grzelak said the teen charged that Volpi repeatedly asked her, 'Do you like it? Do you like it?' while he had his hands around her neck during sex.

Matthew Wunsch, an intake case worker at Ashtabula County Children Services, was then called to the witness stand. From a separate room, he and Ashtabula Police Officer Wesley Burns observed the girls' forensic interviews conducted by the coordinator of the Ashtabula Area Child Advocacy Center, he said.

Ashtabula County Assistant Prosecutor Dawn Cantalamessa played the videos - each more than two hours long - of the teens' interviews. The 17-year-old's video detailed how Volpi touched her inappropriately in his bedroom in the early hours of July 6, 2019.

The 17-year-old said after Volpi realized they had called his daughter and she was taking them to talk to the police, he said, "Let's just talk about it." He became alarmed and offered to give the teens any amount of money if they stayed quiet, she said.

"[Volpi's daughter] started yelling; we were crying," the teen said. "We got in the car and she took us to the Ashtabula police station."

Cantalamessa then played the 15-year-old's interview, in which the teen described a hot summer day when she and her siblings just wanted to go swimming at Volpi's home. They all enjoyed a pool and hot tub but when their parents left, Volpi served them alcohol and encouraged the underage girls to drink, she said.

Under the guise of getting dry towels, Volpi followed the teen into the house, she said. "He told me I had a really nice body," she said."He wanted me to get my [private parts] and nipples pierced. I told him my parents wouldn't allow it."

Volpi then touched her private parts and made sexual comments, she said. He also took her hand and placed it on his private parts.

The teen then recounted what she had told Grzelak at Hillcrest Hospital about sexual activity between herself and Volpi, and herself and Babbitt at Volpi's store. She said Volpi gave Babbitt $40 before they left to buy cigarettes.

Police later charged Babbitt with unlawful sexual conduct with a minor. She pleaded guilty to attempted obstruction of justice in a plea negotiation with prosecutors. She was sentenced to two years probation, and agreed to get treatment for her drug addiction and testify at Volpi's trial. She's been clean and sober for a year, she testified Thursday.

Once back at Volpi's house that night, the 15-year-old said she confided to the 17-year-old girl about the sex acts, but asked her to keep it quiet, she said. When it got really late, the 15-year-old said Volpi assigned bedrooms to his overnight guests and put the 15- and 17-year-old girls in his bedroom.

The 15-year-old said Volpi then mentioned how her 14-year-old sister was in his shower and he suggested they go watch her.

"I sort of freaked out because that's my little sister, she's everything to me," the teen said. "I was worried he was going to touch my little sister."

The trial resumes at 8:30 a.m. today in the courtroom of Ashtabula County Common Pleas Judge Thomas Harris.

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