'Eligible bachelor' acquitted of rape

January 18, 2008 5:28:51 PM PST
A lawyer once listed as one of People magazine's most eligible bachelors was acquitted Friday of charges he tried to rape a 19-year-old woman, but he still faces allegations from two other women. Prosecutors alleged that Gary Zerola attacked the woman after charming her with gifts and alcohol. His attorney called the woman a party girl and habitual liar who made up a violent scenario.

A jury in Middlesex County took less than a day to find Zerola, a former prosecutor, not guilty of assault with attempt to rape, kidnapping, indecent assault and battery and other charges.

"We were confident in the case we put before the jury, but we must respect their decision today, and we thank them for their service to the commonwealth," prosecutor Gerry Leone said in a statement. He declined further comment because Zerola still faces a separate trial here in the 2004 rape of another 19-year-old woman.

Zerola's dark, brooking looks and work with foster children earned him a spot on People magazine's list of top eligible bachelors in 2001, and also a tryout for the reality TV show "The Bachelor."

In his People profile, Zerola, 36, spoke of his troubled childhood. "Statistically speaking, I should be in debt or in jail because of the upbringing I had," he said.

Zerola, a former prosecutor in Suffolk and Essex counties, is also accused of drugging and raping an 18-year-old woman at a Miami Beach, Fl., hotel in October. He denies having sex with the woman.

The Associated Press generally does not identify people alleging sexual abuse.

In the case decided Friday, Zerola was accused of attacking the woman in August 2006 after a night of drinking and taking pain killers while bar hopping.

The woman, now 20, testified that Zerola let her drive his Porsche and bought her a $450 Dolce & Gabbana dress and $200 shoes at Neiman Marcus.

She said she told Zerola she wanted to take a cab back to her parent's house in Newton, but he insisted on giving her a ride. She said Zerola attacked her after they stopped at his apartment to use the bathroom.

The woman said after she repeatedly rejected Zerola's sexual advances, he forced her into the bathroom and slammed her forehead against a door frame. The woman testified that she escaped after she dialed 911 on her cell phone, and Zerola let her go after he saw the blue lights of the police car flashing outside.

Prosecutors played 911 tape with woman screaming at Zerola to stop.

But defense attorney Janice Bassil said the accuser coerced Zerola into buying her expensive gifts. She questioned the woman's credibility, showing in court a pair of undamaged panties that the woman said Zerola had ripped off.

Bassil said the woman refused to leave Zerola's apartment, and that the 911 tape was actually a recording of Zerola trying to get her out. Bassil did not immediately return a call for comment on the acquittal or other pending charges.

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