East Lyme massage therapist on trial for groping female client

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A woman who says she was sexually assaulted by East Lyme massage therapist Joseph L. Baribeau told her story to a jury Monday at the first-day of Baribeau's trial in New London Superior Court.

Baribeau, 63, of Niantic, has pleaded not guilty to fourth-degree sexual assault and opted for a jury trial. According to Monday's testimony, Baribeau, a Connecticut native with no criminal record, retired after 25 years with United Parcel Service and became a licensed massage therapist in 2004. The Department of Public Health, which issues the license, is investigating him due to the allegation that he inappropriately touched a female client on January 8, 2014.

The alleged victim is a stay-at-home mother who is not being identified by The Day due to the nature of her complaint. Under direct examination by prosecutor Theresa Anne Ferryman, she testifed that Baribeau had been giving her massages for 2 1/2 years at his business, Body Kneadz Therapeutic Massage and Wellness Center in Flanders Plaza on Chesterfield Road. A friend told her about Baribeau, and she started going to him about once a month. She increased her visits after she injured her neck and back in a car crash.

The woman said that as she lay on a massage table, naked but covered with a sheet and blanket during her 90-minute session, Baribeau, whom she referred to as "Joe," hurriedly massaged her head and neck massage before she turned onto her back and he started on her legs. She said her face was covered with a scented cloth, but she felt him lift the blanket and grope her. She said she froze in shock, then touched his hand and he stopped.

"He said, 'Wasn't it good?'' she testified. She was shocked, she said, and did not stop the massage, which continued for about a half an hour. While paying Baribeau at the front desk, she said she told him, "You know I'm married, right?"

"He said, "Yes, I'm sorry. It will never happen again," she testified. She said she felt "dirty and disgusting," and that after speaking with her close friends and husband, she decided to go to the East Lyme Police the following day. In a recorded phone call from the police station, she said Baribeau apologized, told her it would never happen again and offered her a free massage. The jury is expected to hear the recording when the trial resumes Tuesday.

Defense attorney Michael A. Blanchard, referring to the woman's relationship with Baribeau as an "involvement," said he had looked at her Facebook account. He asked her to confirm whether she had posted six entries about "rape and sexual predators/violence" prior to the alleged incident that she has since deleted. The woman said she dosn't recall posting the items and does not know how to delete posts.

The alleged victim's husband and friends testified that the usually calm woman was "hysterical" following the incident and that they encouraged her to go to the police. The husband said he suggested she get a lawyer, and she retained attorney William McCoy. She has not filed any civil complaints against Baribeau to date.

Contacted by police, Baribeau agreed to meet them at the Waterford Police Department, where he repeatedly denied any inappropriate behavior during a videotaped interview with Sgt. Bruce W. Babcock and officer Jean Cavanaugh. The jury watched the recording, in which Babcock, noting Baribeau's responses to the woman sounded guilty, suggested Baribeau might have screwed up "this one time."

Baribeau said the client was "a very nice person" with whom he had a professional relationship. He said his hands were "pretty close" to the woman's private parts as he was stretching her legs but that she was covered up. He said he apologized and offered her a free massage when she confronted him.

"I've always told them, if there's anything we do that makes you uncomfortable, speak up," Baribeau said during the interview.

Judge John M. Newson instructed the jury that in order to find Baribeau guilty, they must find that the state proved beyond a reasonable doubt the woman was subjected to sexual contact, that Baribeau intended to obtain sexual gratification or to degrade or humiliate the woman. Fourth-degree sexual assault is a class A misdeameanor punishishable by up to a year in prison.

The trial is expected to last through Wednesday.


Twitter: @KFLORIN

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