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Accuser testifies on day one of Serna trial

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Accuser testifies on day one of Serna trial

Juan Serna

    A man accusing a Georgia Southern University associate professor of sexual assault testified in court Monday, telling jurors Dr. Juan Serna used amyl nitrite, also known as "Amsterdam poppers," to coerce him into having sex.
    The victim, now 21,  told jurors he met Serna, now 46,  when he took a "conversational Spanish" class in 2005, then worked for him teaching "English as a Second Language" classes.
    He accused Serna of using the poppers to render him unable to control his actions and fight back after the associate professor paid a visit after a party April 28-29, 2006 and sexually assaulted him. It was not the first time Serna made advances toward him, he said.
    The victim, whom the Statesboro Herald will not identify, said he and his roommate Justin Watson had been at a bar in the spring of 2006, celebrating Latin Night, when Serna invited the two over to his home for drinks after the bars closed.
    It was the first and only time he had been in Serna's home, he said.
    He said Serna gave them alcoholic drinks in spite of them both being under 21, and then turned on a pornographic TV channel. When Watson went to the bathroom, Serna tried to kiss the victim, and made further sexual advances, he said. "It got a bit awkward ... I told Justin it was time to go."
    The victim testified he avoided Serna afterward, except for necessary meetings at work. He said he did not quit his job because he enjoyed it and did not have to see Serna often.
    Serna made several phone calls after the victim missed class and offered apologies, he said.
    The victim told the jury Serna later invited him to a farewell party  for a mutual friend, but he refused. "I didn't want a relationship outside of work ... or class," he said.
    April 28, 2006, the victim and others held a party at the victim's Woodlands Apartment for Heather Braddy, who had a birthday, he said. He admitted drinking was taking place although many visitors as well as himself were underage.
    The victim  said Serna called and he ended up inviting Serna and the mutual friend to stop by "so I could say goodbye" to the friend who was leaving town.
"Something for me to smell"
    When Serna arrived, he told the group he had a better brand of tequila he wanted them to try and said he was going home to get it, the victim told jurors. By the time Serna returned, the victim  said the party was over and everyone in the apartment - his boyfriend and Watson - were asleep, leaving only he and Serna.
    Jurors listened intently as the victim, whose parents were in  the courtroom, described how he and Serna sat at the bar in the living room, sampling Serna's tequila, when Serna reached into his pocket " and said he had something for me to smell."
    The victim said Serna placed a bottle under his nose "before I knew it" and suddenly "the room began to spin and I began feeling dizzy."
    He said he believed the substance, later identified as amyl nitrate, caused him to be unable to move or speak. The effects only lasted a few minutes, but Serna kept pushing the bottle under his nose every time he began to revive and fight back, he said.
    Serna then began touching the victim, forcing him to the floor and committing aggravated sodomy, he said, going into graphic detail to describe the ordeal to jurors.
    Serna listened without showing reaction throughout the victim's testimony as well as that of witnesses and professionals such as Deno Devereaux, forensic alchemist with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation crime lab in Savannah, and Dr. Edmund Donoghue, GBI Regional Medical Examiner.
    Serna was suspended from his duties upon his arrest  in April 2006, said GSU spokesperson Loretta Brandon.
Opening arguments, witnesses testify
    Bulloch County Superior Court Judge William Woodrum read the indictments against Serna during the beginning of court Monday. Serna is charged with two counts of aggravated sodomy (one involving oral sex), sexual battery, furnishing alcohol to persons under 21 and possession of dangerous drugs.
    Serna has pled not guilty to the charges.
    During opening arguments, Ogeechee Judicial Circuit Assistant District Attorney Daphne Jarriel, who lead the prosecution, said "the defendant has a lustful disposition towards young men" and "used his position (as an associate professor) to acquaint himself with young men ... provided alcohol to them on a regular basis ... (showed them) a porn video and asked them what they thought ..."
    She also cited police records stating the bottle of "Amsterdam poppers" was recovered from Serna's trash can. The bottle was included in evidence shown in the court room Monday, along with photos of bruising on the victim's back he said were the result of the assault.
    Defense attorney Robert "Sims" Lanier  referred to the prosecution's presentation as "rumors, innuendo and inappropriate attention," and said "We want to present the total picture," stating the trial was about " not a moral or professional issue, but a criminal case."
    He recited Serna's list of educational degrees and accomplishments, followed by saying "This is the first accusation of sexual misconduct" amid "glowing reviews and a folder filled with letters of recommendation ..." for the Fulbright scholar.
    Lanier also referred to alleged flirtation on the victim's part including sexual comments and a "water gun and tickle fight" at the party April 28, 2006.
    Statesboro Police Officer Jeff Thompson testified about responding to the scene in the early morning hours at Woodlands Apartment April 29, 2006, finding the victim in tears and very distressed. He told jurors how he took the victim to the hospital for testing " as in all sexual assaults."
    The victim's roommate testified peering out of his bedroom door to make sure everyone was gone and seeing the victim and someone on the living room floor, engaged in what he thought was a consensual "intimate" situation.
    A female friend testified going home from the party to get a phone call from the hysterical victim. She returned to his apartment where she and his roommate discussed calling police with  the victim, who did so.
    "He said 'he raped me,'" Heather Braddy testified.  "I said 'who?" and he said 'Dr. Serna.'"
    The victim's roommate Justin Watson also testified the victim told him Serna assaulted him and told jurors how he helped the victim clean himself up, describing the victim at the time as being "sobbing, stricken and shocked."
    Serna did not testify Monday and it is unclear whether he will testify today. The trial continues today and the case is expected to be handed over to jurors this afternoon.
    Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at 489-9414 or by e-mail at 
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