MAYS LANDING — An Atlantic City fire captain was supposed to be a foster father to a 15-year-old girl in 2010, but instead gained her trust and then used her for sex, a prosecutor charged Monday during opening statements in Roderick Knox's sexual assault trial.
Knox, 45, is accused of having sex with the girl while she lived with him and his family for about three weeks that August.
But the defense said the allegations are a story the teen — who has spent much of her life in the foster system — made up when she feared she would be taken from the home.
Knox is charged with aggravated sexual assault, endangering the welfare of a child and criminal sexual contact. He has been suspended from the Fire Department without pay for more than a year.
"I couldn't believe what just happened," the girl said as she testified about her thoughts the first time she said the two had intercourse.
Knox had just left the bedroom of the girl, whose name is not being published due to the nature of the allegations.
At one point, the teen said Knox told her to keep a diary so he wouldn't get in trouble if she ever told of what happened.
She was supposed to write about her attraction to the older man, she testified. But she said she never wrote anything.
The girl, now 17 and a senior at a high school out of state, told of four alleged sexual encounters with Knox in three different locations, including the bedroom the defendant shared with his wife. The last allegedly happened after she says she told the older of Knox's two daughters, who was 17 at the time.
But defense attorney Stephen Funk said the girl made up the allegations after she confessed her attraction to Knox and he told her he would have to let her Division of Youth and Family Services caseworker know about the inappropriate thoughts.
"The evidence will show this case is a complete fabrication by a vindictive, troubled child," Funk told the jurors.
He said that when the girl told Knox she had sexual thoughts about him, "this freaks Mr. Knox out, to say the least."
The girl begged him not to report it, afraid she would be moved out of the home, Funk said. But Knox told her he must.
"OK, so it's gonna be like that," Funk quoted her as saying.
"He knows (she's) upset," Funk told the jurors. "But he doesn't comprehend exactly what (her) comments foreshadow."
But it was Knox who asked her if she found him attractive, the girl testified.
"Yeah, for an old guy," she replied.
He later told her he recorded the conversation, she said.
The second time they allegedly had sex was inside Knox's car at a public park after they left a birthday barbecue.
Funk said Knox's wife, Nicola Marie, will testify that Knox and the girl returned home from the party just moments after he left there. But the girl said they had just finished having sex when Knox talked to his wife, who asked that he bring home some food.
He said they were going to sing “Happy Birthday” and then head home, the girl testified.
"This case is about trust and the abuse of trust," Assistant Prosecutor John Flammer told the jury during his opening statement. "He gained her trust, and then used her to develop a sexual relationship."
The girl moved into the home around Aug. 10 or 11 of 2010, and left Sept. 1 of that year, after telling Knox's wife what happened.
The woman — whom the girl called Miss Marie — was the one who called authorities.
The girl was taken to the home of Miss Marie's mother in Atlantic City and later was examined at the Vineland Regional Medical Center.
The state will present evidence that shows swabs taken from the girl's breasts match Knox's DNA, Flammer said.
But Funk said there were problems with how that evidence was taken, and that no other physical evidence — including from the girl's underwear — can be linked to Knox.
He will continue cross-examining the girl Tuesday before Superior Court Judge Bernard DeLury.
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