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Day two of Serna trial - witnesses testify, attorney suggests drug demonstration

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Day two of Serna trial - witnesses testify, attorney suggests drug demonstration

Dr. Juan Serna

    A Georgia Southern University associate professor accused of aggravated sodomy took the stand Tuesday during the second day of trial. Dr. Juan Serna denied forcing himself on a male student, stating the sex was consensual, and shocked prosecutors when he agreed to sniff a drug he admitted using during the sexual encounter that took place in April, 2006.
    Serna, 46, faces charges of aggravated sodomy, sexual battery, possession of a dangerous drug and furnishing alcohol to underage persons. A former student, now 21, called police early April 29, 2006, claiming Serna forced sexual intercourse after waving alkyl nitrite under his nose, rendering him unable to fight back.
    The victim, who had also been drinking that night, testified Monday.
    Serna took the stand Tuesday afternoon, following a handful of others, including two men who testified having disturbing encounters with Serna in the past.
    Serna admitted having numerous social relationships with several students in the past. "I regret that I did that in the past," he said. It hadn't been a problem "until now."
    He described his relationship with the victim, which he said began when the victim took a class he taught. The victim later went to work for Serna teaching "English as a second language" classes.
    Serna painted a different picture than the victim, stating the victim called him and invited him to many parties.  The victim testified Monday about Serna making advances towards him the one and only time he ever went to the professor's house, but Serna said Tuesday the victim solicited the attention after admitting he was gay, as is Serna.
    Serna said he kissed the victim that day in 2005, but " after that incident I realized it was not appropriate."
    Serna's story about the events that unfolded the night of April 28-29, 2006, echoed the victim's except for the ending.
    He told jurors he and friends Xavier Leon and Brian Poffell were at Gnat's Landing having a "goodbye" dinner for Poffell, who was leaving town. He said the victim was supposed to be there, but when he called to see why, the victim said he was having a party, and invited Serna and his friends to stop by.
    Serna said the victim was already inebriated when he arrived, and began flirting with him by shooting a water gun at him and tickling him. He said the victim was angry and jealous because of something his boyfriend, Drady Hendley, said. "He said I was hot and he wanted to be with me," Serna said.    
    "He called me names - mariposa," he said, Mariposa in Spanish means butterfly but is also used as a derogatory word for a gay man, he said.
    But Serna said the victim also offered himself as well as his boyfriend for sex in exchange for influencing another professor to give the victim good grades.
    That professor,  Dr. Jorje Souza, testified Tuesday as well, however, stating no one ever asked him about the victim's grades, which were good anyway.
Attorney suggests Serna try drug
    Serna said the victim asked him to come back after the party was over and bring some expensive tequila, which the two drank alone, as the guests had left and the victim's roommate was in his room and Hendley was passed out from drinking.
    The victim testified Monday that Serna offered to bring the tequila he said was better than what was at the party, and that after drinking a few shots Serna waved a bottle under his nose.
    Serna said Tuesday he did bring a bottle of "Amsterdam Poppers," which was tested by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Crime Lab and identified as alkyl nitrite. During Monday's testimony the chemical was mistakenly referred to as amyl nitrate and amyl nitrite.
    "I told him what it was and how it was used," he said. "I sniffed it first and asked if he would like to experiment, and he said yes."
    Later during his testimony, Serna's attorney Robert "Sims" Lanier asked him whether he would like to sniff the drug from the same bottle he offered the victim, which was in the courtroom as evidence.
    Serna agreed, but was stopped by a vehement objection from prosecutor Daphne Jarriel, assistant district attorney with the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit.
    "I'm shocked Mr. Lanier would even make the suggestion," she said, reminding the court that the alkyl nitrite is "illegal in the state of Georgia" and that the chemical had likely degraded during the time that has elapsed. "I would strongly request that the court deny" Lanier's suggestion.
    During his testimony Serna described in lurid detail the sexual interaction between him and the victim, claiming it was consensual.
Others share similar experiences
    Geoff Walker, a 22-year-old former GSU student, also testified for the state, telling jurors how he met Serna in 2003 after a party. Serna invited him and another friend, Kyle Schucchman, to his home afterward.
    Walker's testimony echoed comments the victim made Monday, describing a very similar scenario.
    Serna gave him and Schucchman a ride to Serna's home, offered them drinks, turned on pornography and offered them some "Jungle Juice," which is the same type product as the Amsterdam Poppers the victim said Serna used on him.
    Walker said Serna told them the "Jungle Juice" was like marijuana and made you feel good, but the fumes from holding the bottle at his waist made him "dizzy and disoriented."
    "He said 'no, no, no, up your nose,'" he said. "I said 'no, I'm good."
    Schucchman, now 23,  refused to try the drug.
    "We did not feel very comfortable," he said about being at Serna's home. "It was very awkward." When Serna put in another porn video, "It was very strange. I started to get very nervous," he said. "It started getting obvious maybe Dr. Serna was homosexual."
    Both Walker and Schucchman said they left rather quickly and ran most of the way back to their apartment near campus. "I was kind of concerned he wanted to have ... sex with us," Schucchman said. "He was coming on to us."
    Both he and Walker were under age at the time, when Serna offered them alcohol and the "Jungle Juice," he said.
    Poffell also testified Tuesday, stating Serna had never made sexual advances towards him and that he never heard the victim make sexual comments at the party. Leon, who was also present at the party April 28, 2006, testified he did not hear the victim making any reference to trading sex for grades.
    Hendley told jurors he would not believe the victim under oath, but also admitted being so intoxicated the night the assault allegedly occurred he passed out and could not stay awake even after being told the victim had been assaulted.
    He also testified he never went to police with any information, but contacted Serna's attorney with unspecified information about the case after he and the victim broke up.
    After Serna's testimony, the state asked rebuttal witnesses to take the stand. One rebuttal witness was Rod Harden, a 31-year-old former student of Serna's who told jurors about a study trip he took to Costa Rica, where he rebuffed advances made by Serna.
    They were at a party where most of the students were dancing, and Serna asked him "Where is your woman?" he said.
    "I said 'hell, Serna, I don't know, I guess I'm ugly,'" Harden told jurors. But Serna disagreed, he said. "He said I had a fine ... and not to worry about it," he said. "Then he said he'd like to do various things to (Harden)."
    After he told Serna he was heterosexual, things got "strange," he said. Later on the trip Serna told him he was making three "F's" and hinted that there were things he could do to change that, Harden said. "I took it I could trade (good grades) for physical favors."
    When Harden returned home he did receive three failing grades, but appealed the grades and they were changed, he said.
    The defense rested its case late Tuesday, and both the state and defense are expected to make closing arguments today. The case will be handed over to the jury for deliberation after closing arguments.

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