A young Aspen woman testifying against her ex-boyfriend in a Pitkin County District Court jury trial admitted Thursday that her recollection of certain details of the night in which he allegedly assaulted her was hazy because she had been drinking.
But there was one detail she said she clearly recalls: that the boyfriend, Harold S. Maniloff III, pushed her to the floor and pressed his foot upon her neck, restricting her ability to breathe.
“He was choking me,” the 27-year-old woman said, later suggesting that she thought she was going to die.
Maniloff, 29, is accused of second-degree assault, a class 4 felony, and domestic violence. At the time of the alleged incident in the wee hours of Dec. 23, he had been in an eight-month intimate relationship with the woman, but was not living with her, according to an Aspen Police Department affidavit.
Jury selection in the trial was completed on Wednesday afternoon, and the local prosecutorial team of deputy district attorney Don Nottingham and county court prosecutor Luisa Berne started presenting the case against Maniloff on Thursday morning. The trial is expected to continue today at 9 a.m. with prosecutors wrapping up and the case for the defense getting underway. Maniloff may or may not elect to take the stand on his own behalf.
The testimony on Thursday painted a picture of heavy drinking on the evening of Dec. 22, as the woman, Maniloff and others were out on the town for a birthday celebration.
After dinner, the group ended up at the downtown music venue Belly Up, where the woman waited outside for Maniloff to return with a ticket, according to her testimony. When he didn’t return, she left the scene and went to other nightspots. They reunited at Eric’s Bar after midnight, she said, where they got into an argument.
Not long after, he went to her apartment, using the combination to a padlock to retrieve her key. He went inside and may have fallen asleep, the woman said. When she got home after 3 a.m., she told him to leave, and an argument ensued.
“I was upset,” she said in court. “It wasn’t necessarily mellow.”
The woman alleged that in her second-story bedroom, he pushed her to the floor, and choked her with his foot. She testified that she was extremely scared during the ordeal, and air to her lungs was restricted for a few seconds.
After that, she said, he took his foot off of her, put his hands on her arms, and shoved her against a mirror. He then allegedly placed his hands on her throat, but not to the point where she was unable to breathe, according to her testimony.
A few seconds later, Maniloff let go, she said. Not long after that he fell down the staircase, and the woman called police, she testified.
Under cross-examination by defense attorney Georgina Melbye of local law firm Kalamaya Goscha, the woman said she didn’t ask for medical attention after police arrived. She said she doesn’t remember having problems swallowing as a result of the foot hold on her neck.
In court, prosecutors displayed photographs of her neck and shoulder on a large screen. A police officer testified that the woman’s neck had extreme shades of redness but acknowledged that the photographs failed to capture the marks very well. One photo showed several marks on her right shoulder, but the woman admitted that they might have been caused by snowboarding. She also said she didn’t know whether Maniloff’s physicality caused any bruising.
Also under questioning, the woman admitted that she was inebriated that night, and could have been mistaken as to whether Maniloff was asleep when she got home. Melbye then brought up the issue of Maniloff falling down her staircase.
“He just fell down the stairs?” the attorney asked.
“Correct,” the woman said.
Melbye then showed a video from a police body camera in which the woman told investigators that she pushed him.
“So he didn’t just fall down the stairs, you pushed him?” Melbye asked in court.
“I guess, according to what I just said [in the video],” the woman said.
Melbye also played a recording of the 911 call in which the emergency dispatcher asked the woman if she needed an ambulance.
“No, I’m OK,” the woman replied.
Melbye followed the 911 recording by asking the woman whether she was ever “in the wrong” that evening.
“That’s a hard question to answer,” she said, pausing and then adding, “I think Harry was in the wrong.”
During redirect, Nottingham asked the woman if she had any regrets about the night.
“I regret going home,” she said.
The deputy district attorney then asked her why she felt Maniloff was in the wrong.
“Because of the force he used against me,” she said.
During opening arguments, Melbye told jurors the alleged strangulation “did not happen” and that evidence would prove that the woman had been “taunting” Maniloff. Both of them were behaving badly that night, she suggested.
In Colorado, the consequences of conviction for second-degree assault, a class 4 felony, can include fines between $2,000 and $500,000 and two to six years in state prison, according to sentencing guidelines.