VH1′s Love and Hip Hop star Mandeecees Harris’ trial for aggravated sexual assault, criminal sexual contact, and child endangerment began yesterday as attorneys on both sides presented their opening statements.
Th cliffviewpilot.com reports that Bergen County prosecutors laid out the state’s case against Harris to the jury, claiming that the reality television star manipulated a 15-year-old girl into having sex with him in his home on repeated occasions between 2009-2010.
The prosecution believes Harris coerced the teenager with money, and that the child’s “rough upbringing” made her susceptible to being easily influenced by someone of Harris’s stature.
“An adult like Mendeecees Harris can easily manipulate a child into doing things like performing oral sex – with words, with actions and later, with money,” stated Assistant Prosecutor Demetra Maurice.
Maurice claimed that at that time of the alleged assault, the accuser was living with Harris and his girlfriend, along with her two sons and his child from a previous relationship, in their home in Lodi, New Jersey. The 15 year-old girl was said to often be home alone with Harris and the boys.
The prosecution then stated that Harris began showing the accuser pornography, asking for oral sex, and requesting she tell him sexual stories. Eventually, he started offering her money for sexual favors.
It is alleged that he would even tell the boys in the house to “go talk to your sister, she knows what she has to do” when they would ask for money for themselves.
Harris’s attorney, Brian Neary, later addressed the jury and claimed that the accusations against his client were all made up in order for the young accuser to be able to remain in New Jersey.
“She was going to be sent back down south to live with her father,” said Neary. ”Her claims are so implausible, so unbelievable, as to cast doubt on what she says.”
Neary went on to say that Harris never asked to have sex with the accuser or offered her money. He told the jury he also believed that the girl had problems that were unrelated to Harris, revealing that on the day she reported the alleged relationship she had defied her mother by going to New York to get a piercing.
Neary had hoped to present photographs as evidence in the trial, but before opening statements got underway Judge Liliana DeAvila-Silebi ruled that the pictures were not permissible because they would affect the credibility of the accuser in the eyes of the jury and that they were prohibited under the rape shield law.
Another set of pictures will be ruled on later after it is decided whether the accuser’s mother will testify.
Last week prosecutors offered Harris a plea deal that would have resulted in a 5-year prison sentence. He turned down the offer setting up the ongoing trial. He now faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
Harris is also facing drug trafficking charges in an unrelated case in Rochester, New York. Federal prosecutors will pursue that case once the sexual assault trial in New Jersey is complete.