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Singer James' Sexual Assault Trial Begins

August 24, 1993|JULIO MORAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Singer Rick James sexually assaulted one woman and beat up another because he is a "sadistic animal" who believes he can get away with such behavior because of his fame as a music producer and performer, a prosecutor asserted Monday.

But James' attorney, Mark J. Werksman, countered by saying "this is a case about sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, but it is also a case about lies, manipulations and false accusations."

James, best known for his 1981 hit song "Super Freak," went on trial Monday on 15 counts stemming from two separate incidents that allegedly occurred 17 months apart.

The first incident allegedly occurred in July, 1991, at the singer's former home in the Hollywood Hills above Studio City where prosecutors say he tortured a woman with a hot knife and cocaine pipe, then forced her to have oral sex with his girlfriend.

In the second incident, in November, 1992, a 34-year-old woman alleged that James and his girlfriend beat her at the tony St. James's Club Hotel in West Hollywood.

James' girlfriend, Tanya Anne Hijazi, was initially charged with James in both cases. But she agreed to plead guilty to a single count of assault with a deadly weapon in exchange for dismissal of all other charges. She is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 21 to four years in prison.

James, 45, faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if he is convicted on all charges.

In opening statements Monday of what is expected to be a three-week trial, Deputy Dist. Atty. Andrew Flier told a San Fernando Superior Court jury of 10 men and two woman that he will show that James has a pattern of abusing woman dating back at least to 1986.

"He thinks he is so much better that he thinks it's OK to hurt women," Flier said.

But Werksman countered that the women expected to testify are not credible and that the prosecutor will not be able to produce any witnesses who saw James strike anyone.

"It will basically be their word against his," said Werksman, adding that James' generosity makes him "vulnerable to parasitic groupies."

Werksman said James had a drug-abuse problem and admitted to having sex with various woman, but he asked the jury to judge James on the evidence presented, not on his lifestyle.

Police Detective Dennis Anthony Cicioni, the prosecution's first witness, testified that a gun, drugs, pipes and the kitchen knife allegedly used to burn the woman in the first incident were found in James' home. Photographs of the woman showing burn marks on her legs and abdomen were also introduced as evidence. She is scheduled to testify today.

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