At first, the 20-year-old woman said, she found the handsome young lawyer charming and fun. He bought her a designer dress and shoes, let her drive his Porsche and bought her drinks at several Boston bars.
But later, he became aggressive, refused to let her leave his apartment and pinned her to the couch with his knees, the woman testified Wednesday. She later told police that the man — a Boston attorney who was once named one of People magazine's "Most Eligible Bachelors" — tried to rape her.
The woman testified on the opening day of the trial of Gary Zerola, 36, who is accused of attempted rape and kidnapping on Aug. 18, 2006, when she was 19. He has denied the charges and his lawyer says the accuser made up the story.
Zerola faces a separate trial in the 2004 rape of another 19-year-old woman, and faces more charges in Florida, where he is accused of raping an 18-year-old woman at a Miami Beach hotel in October. He has denied he had sex with her.
The accuser in the 2006 case said she first met Zerola at a Boston nightclub in July that year. She said they talked on the phone and exchanged text messages over the next month, then went shopping together Aug. 18.
The woman said she felt awkward when Zerola bought her a $450 Dolce & Gabbana dress and $200 shoes at Neiman Marcus, but accepted them.
Woman: ‘He was scaring me’
After a night of drinking at nightclubs and bars, the woman said, she told Zerola she wanted to take a cab back to her parents' home in Newton, but he insisted on giving her a ride. After they stopped at his apartment to use the bathroom, Zerola attacked her, she said.
"He started to be really aggressive. ... I said, 'Seriously, Gary, what are you doing?'" she testified.
"He was scaring me," she said. "I was like, 'Gary, you're really scaring me.'"
She said that she struggled with Zerola, but that he pinned her to the couch and tried to unzip her dress.
"He clearly was not letting me leave. I was now, like, basically crying. He was not letting me go," she said.
The trial ended for the day before the woman was asked to describe how she escaped. She was expected to continue testifying Thursday.
Woman called a partier, liar
Earlier, during opening statements, Assistant District Attorney Suzanne Kontz told the jury that Zerola ripped the woman's dress off, then slammed her head against the wall as she struggled with him. She said the woman eventually dialed 911 on her cell phone and got away when Zerola saw blue police lights outside the window of his apartment.
Zerola's lawyer, Janice Bassil, said his accuser is a partier and habitual liar who made up the story about her client and has changed her account of what happened several times.
"She couldn't tell the truth if her life depended upon it, let alone Gary Zerola's life," Bassil said.
She said the woman allowed Zerola to buy her the expensive dress, holding the silk, leopard-print dress trimmed in black lace in front of the jury.
Zerola's good looks and work with foster children earned him a place on the famous People magazine list in 2001 and also a tryout for the reality TV show "The Bachelor."
In his People profile, Zerola spoke of his troubled childhood. "Statistically speaking, I should be in debt or in jail because of the upbringing I had," he said.
Zerola opened his law practice in 2000 as a criminal defense attorney, but his law license has been suspended.