A 15-year-old girl testifying at a gang rape trial Thursday struggled to recall details of the attack, wavering on the number of people involved before settling on five - one less than the six charged in the case.
Evolving accounts by the accuser, who was 13 at the time, represent a hurdle for prosecutors as trial continues in Colorado Springs for Jacolby Hasan Williams, 21, the oldest defendant in a case that has attracted national notice.
It's not uncommon for sex assault victims to struggle with their memories, experts routinely say in court, owing to trauma and the passage of time.
In this case, however, the girl's recollections could be pivotal, because Williams claims he wasn't present during any sex acts, telling police he had left his apartment on Potter Drive in east Colorado Springs before the alleged assault she described. His attorneys are expected to argue that DNA in his bedroom, where the girl said she was pinned to a bed and raped by six males, could have been left at any time.
Four people have already pleaded guilty in the case, with several of them claiming the girl was a willing participant and wasn't truthful about her age.
Even if the jury rejects allegations of forcible rape, Williams could be found guilty of sexual assault on a child because the teen wasn't old enough to grant lawful consent, opening up the potential for a life sentence to prison or probation.
During two hours of questioning on Thursday, the girl sometimes buried her face in her hands as she was confronted over differences in her testimony about the December 2016 incident and what she said during three earlier statements, one to a sex assault nurse practitioner and two to a police forensic questioner.
When asked by prosecutor Oliver Robinson who had raped her, the girl twice listed three names, without mentioning Jacolby Williams. It wasn't until Robinson prodded, "What about Jacolby?" that she named the defendant. "And Jacolby, yes."
Under follow-up questioning, she variously listed four, five and six attackers, before agreeing the number was five, including the defendant.
The girl said the lights were off in the room during the assault, and that she blacked out for as long as five to six minutes, making it difficult to remember every detail.
Even so, she said she remembered hearing someone call out Jacolby's name and said the defendant ejaculated on her leg. One of Williams' attorneys, public defender Nathan Ojanen, pointed out that she hadn't previously made that claim.
During cross-examination, Ojanen hinted at other explanations for her faltering memory, questioning her about the marijuana and cocaine found in her system during blood testing after she reported the assault. She acknowledged she had been smoking marijuana with the males prior to being forced into the bedroom, but said she didn't know why she had tested positive for cocaine.
In suggesting the girl invented allegations, Ojanen asked why she didn't have bruising or other injuries that corresponded with her account of being pinned to the bed. He also focused on reports that she had told her mother and grandmother she had been "tied down" during the assaults, though she denied ever making the claim.
Despite inconsistencies, prosecutors say DNA evidence proves the girl was raped in Jacolby Williams' apartment, and they say other factors support her story of a violent sexual encounter.
She called police and reported the assault within hours, and a medical examination at a hospital documented vaginal tearing, prosecutors said during opening statements on Wednesday. Besides DNA, investigators who searched Williams' apartment found baby oil stains on his sheets, consistent with the girl's account that it was used as lubrication.
A Lyft driver called as a witness Thursday told the jury that the girl seemed to be in distress when he arrived to pick her up from a location near the Williams residence.
"She was waiting out in the snow, looked cold and was crying," he said. "I just assumed it was a fight with a boyfriend or something. It was just kind of awkward."
Extra security is on hand for the trial after the judge overseeing the case, Michael McHenry, received threatening voicemails over perceptions that some of those involved had received a slap on the wrist - lifetime probationary sentences approved by prosecutors as part of plea deals.
The day in court began with McHenry questioning whether jurors had seen a flier critical of the sentences that had been left in an elevator on Wednesday. None had.
The trial is expected to continue this week and will include testimony from some of the others involved in the attack, prosecutors say.