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Mother and daughter testify as Old Lyme sex trial begins

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The two families on opposite sides of a criminal trial that began Monday in New London Superior Court were close once — maybe too close. 

A now 12-year-old girl who says Christopher Dionne touched her sexually during a sleepover at his home at 4 Village Lane in Old Lyme on Nov. 26, 2017, testified at his trial that she had been best friends with Dionne's daughter of the same age and that she addressed her friend's parents by their first names. The girls played soccer and took dance lessons together and regularly slept over one another's house.

That friendship ended when Dionne, 37, who was pursuing a career in television, allegedly touched her buttocks and breasts beneath her cheetah print pajamas and asked if she wanted to perform a sexual act. She said Dionne came into the living room at 1:30 a.m. and molested her while his daughter slept on another couch nearby. During another sleepover, the girl said she had awakened to find Dionne lying next to her on the couch, his finger in her mouth. 

Dionne has pleaded not guilty to risk of injury and fourth-degree sexual assault and has turned down offers from the state to resolve his case by pleading guilty to reduced charges.

The alleged victim, who wore a blue jumper and sweater and her blonde hair in French braids, was the first witness called by Senior Assistant State's Attorney Theresa Anne Ferryman. She remained composed until the very end of her testimony, when she wiped her eyes and said she's been worried about Dionne's daughter, whom she loves.

Under cross-examination by defense attorney Michael Dwyer, she also admitted to being confused about a "flashback" she had to another occasion when she slept at the Dionne home and woke up on the couch to hear screaming and found Chris Dionne in his daughter's room. She told a friend's mother about the memory, but wasn't sure it had actually occurred.

The state's second witness was the alleged victim's mother, who also testified about her close relationship with the Dionnes. The families supported one another when it came to rides for the kids, she said, and got together often for barbecues and backyard gatherings around a fire pit. The mother, who is divorced, said she would hang out and chat with Dionne's wife, Summer, while the kids played together and that Summer Dionne often brought her recipes and talked to her about knitting.

She said she could call Christopher Dionne for help if a snake got into her garage or she heard a strange noise. Then she admitted she had engaged in an inappropriate phone relationship with him, sending him a nude photo of herself just hours before he allegedly molested her daughter.

She said the relationship was not physical, even when Dwyer cross-examined her about a third party who had witnessed her "dancing up on him (Dionne)" at her home one night in July 2017.

"I ... don't remember," she said.

The Day does not identify victims and alleged victims of sexual assault.

The girl had spent the night and next day at the Dionne home after the alleged incident, then disclosed it to her mother upon arriving home. The mother called the family therapist, who reported the incident to the Department of Children and Families. The state police and the Department of Children and Families investigated. The child also underwent a forensic interview by a expert at the Yale New Haven Hospital Family Advocacy Center and that interview is expected to be introduced at the trial.  

Dionne said he arrived home from the Rabbit Hole bar in Old Saybrook about 1:30 a.m. and sat down next to the child when he saw her awake on the couch. He claims she began to rub his stomach, and he told her it was inappropriate. According to testimony, he sent the girl's mother and his wife a text around that time saying that the "crazy" girls wouldn't go to sleep.

Dionne appeared with his twin brother on one episode of HGTV's "Family Flip." Taping for a show called "House Rescue" for A&E was suspended due to his arrest, according to online reports.

While free on a $100,000 bond and awaiting trial, Dionne was charged additionally with violation of a protective order after the alleged victim, reported that Dionne repeatedly drove by a cul-de-sac where she, her brother and a friend were playing on April 11, 2019.

Prior to the start of the trial Monday, several of the child's family members had stood outside the courthouse entrance with a banner that they said was to show her their support as she arrived to testify. Judge Barbara Bailey Jongbloed polled the eight jury members to see if they had noticed anything in the courthouse parking lot when they arrived, and none raised their hands.

k.florin@theday.com 

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