Conaway accuser takes stand as sexual assault trial opens

In second of six trials, UD baseball player accused of attempted rape, strangulation
February 12, 2020

The first day of testimony in the second trial of former University of Delaware baseball player Clay Conaway got off to an emotional start when the victim took the stand to detail the night she says Conaway groped and then choked her.

Conaway, 23, of Georgetown, is charged with second-degree attempted rape and strangulation. He is currently serving a five-year jail sentence after being convicted in September 2019 of fourth-degree rape in Sussex County Superior Court.

In her opening statement for the prosecution, Deputy Attorney General Casey Ewart said in November 2017, the victim, then 20 years old, was a student at University of Delaware in Newark, where Conaway was a pitcher on the school baseball team.

The woman is now 22 years old and has since graduated from UD. It is Cape Gazette policy not to publish the names of victims of sexual assault. 

Under direct examination by Deputy Attorney General Rebecca Anderson, the woman testified that she met Conaway through the dating app Tinder. She said she had used the app before, and two previous interactions had produced longterm relationships. She and her boyfriend had recently split up; she testified that she had lost friends she had known through that relationship, so she was looking to establish new relationships. She said her friends encouraged her to go back on Tinder because it had been successful for her in the past.

The woman testified that she used Tinder U, a filter of Tinder for college students, filtering for matches close to UD because she did not want to venture far from campus.

She said Conaway first made contact with her through Tinder’s chat messaging component, which is similar to Facebook Messenger. 

The woman testified Conaway offered to meet her at a bar in Newark, but she told him she was too young to get in. Conaway then offered to meet her at his house, where they could chat and get to know each other. She testified that she went to the house with no intention of having sex with Conaway, dressing in workout pants and a sweatshirt. She said she felt Conaway was trustworthy because his Tinder profile had pictures of him playing baseball and with his family.

Meeting Conaway at his apartment, the woman said she went to Conaway’s room, where they talked about school and past relationships. She testified that Conaway got up to play music. She said at that point, the interaction was calm and, in her words, “chill.” 

Conaway then got up and went over to the bed, she said. He asked her to come over to sit next to him, and they kissed. Up to that point, everything in the interaction was consensual, she said. But then, she testified, Conaway became aggressive, picking the much smaller woman up by her waist and throwing her on the bed, hitting her head on the headboard. Fighting through tears on the witness stand, she said Conaway climbed on top of her, pinned her arms down and began trying to grope her. 

“He became, like this wild animal,” she said. “I was clearly not OK with what he was doing. I kept trying to make him stop.”

When she continued to resist, he put his hands on her throat and began squeezing. 

“I was absolutely terrified,” she said. “I thought I was going to die.”

She said she didn’t want to look Conaway in the eye, so she focused on a crack in the ceiling. 

“It was almost as if he was enjoying himself. His eyes were blacked out. Like he was mentally recording this moment,” the woman testified.

She said the choking lasted about 15 seconds with both of Conaway’s hands around her neck. 

The woman said she screamed, and Conaway stopped.  

“I asked him, ‘What was that?’ He said, ‘I thought all girls were into that,’” she testified. When she told him she did not plan to have sex with him, he got angry, grabbed his phone and texted two of his roommates to walk her to the door and out of the house.

The woman said she went back to her apartment and cried, locking the doors out of fear that Conaway would come back to, as she testified, “finish what he started.” However, she did not immediately report the incident. 

“I felt broken,” she said. “I still had the feeling of his hands around my neck.”

The woman said her roommate came in to check on her, and saw that the woman was scared and had marks on her neck. The woman testified that after the incident, she told only her roommate and her mother what happened. However, she also testified she was reluctant to file a complaint with police.

“I didn’t know how to process it,” she said. “The last thing I wanted to do was think about what happened. I thought I could move past it.”

She testified that her neck was injured for days afterward; she said she struggled to sleep because her neck was hurting so much, but she did not want to go to a doctor, scared to revisit the incident. She said she became more isolated, and took different routes around town to avoid going past Conaway’s house. 

Eventually, the woman’s mother persuaded her to file some sort of complaint, so in August 2018, she filed a Title IX report through the school’s website. A month later, the complaint was seen by a Newark police detective and an investigation began that led to Conaway’s later arrest.

She said she never heard from Conaway again, but she saw him months later at the gym. She testified that she was terrified and immediately left. 

During testimony, Conaway sat placidly, flanked by his attorneys, Diane Coffey and Joe Hurley, occasionally fidgeting with his fingers. 

In an unusual move, the defense called its first witness, Phillip Lioi, prior to cross-examining the woman. Hurley said this was because Lioi was going to be out of town on the date he was supposed to testify. 

Lioi testified he met the woman through Tinder around the time of the incident with Conaway, and after chatting for two to three weeks, they met in person and began dating from December 2017 to February 2018. Lioi said the woman told him she had previously been attacked by another man. However, he disputed details of her testimony, saying she told him she had been attacked in a car without mentioning Clay Conaway. On cross-examination, Ewart played a police interview with Detective Paul Keld of the Newark Police Department in which Lioi never mentioned a car. Later on redirect, Hurley asked if the woman said she had nearly been strangled to death. Lioi said no. 

In her opening statement, defense attorney Coffey said the case boiled down to miscommunication and a misunderstanding about what the interaction would be. Coffey said it was like a pitcher and catcher not being in sync with one another. 

After describing the prosecution’s burden of proof to the jury, Coffey asked Conaway to stand next to her, in an effort to show that Conaway was not 6-feet-3-inches and 245 pounds as described by the prosecution. This drew an objection from Ewart that was sustained, but Coffey kept Conaway standing next to her until she finished her statement. 

The prosecution’s first witness was the investigating officer, Keld, who established the location of the house where the incident took place and its proximity to the woman’s apartment. Under cross-examination from Hurley, Keld said the house was informally known as “The Baseball House” because Delaware baseball players lived there.

The jury, seated about noon Feb. 12 after more than two days of questioning, consists of six women, six men and four alternates. Judge Richard F. Stokes read the jury a brief introduction before attorneys began their opening statements.

In addition to this trial, Conaway faces four more trials on various sexual assault charges, stemming from incidents that took place from 2013 to 2018. This trial is taking place in Delaware Superior Court in Wilmington because the crime is alleged to have taken place in New Castle County. The prosecution originally sought to try all six cases together, but Stokes sided with the defense and called for six separate trials. The trial will resume at 9 a.m., Thursday, Feb. 13, when the woman will face cross-examination.

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