Rape trial begins for county man

Robert Graffius could face 11 years if convicted

LISBON — Testimony in the rape trial of Robert Dale Graffius, a former Columbiana resident, began on Monday morning in Columbiana County Common Pleas Court.

Graffius 41, Orlo Lane, Boardman, is charged with a first-degree felony rape charge for allegedly forcing himself on a woman he had been friends with for about a month. If convicted, Graffius is facing up to 11 years in prison. The alleged crime occurred in June 2017.

Columbiana Patrolman Richard Whitfield took the initial statement from the woman, who he described as “distraught and kind of shaken.” Whitfield said according to the woman’s statement she had been picked up at the Columbiana Library by Jeffrey Graffius, Robert’s brother. She stated the three of them went to get some beer at Marathon. Then they went to Robbie (Robert) Graffius’ apartment on Columbiana-Lisbon Road, where they had some beer and hung out. But after one beer Jeffrey Graffius had left, leaving Robert Graffius and the woman in the apartment alone.

During opening statements, Assistant County Prosecutor Megan Bickerton said the jury will eventually hear how the woman grew tired and asked Robert Graffius if she could lie down in his bedroom and sleep for a while. Eventually, Bickerton said, Graffius entered the bedroom to lie down too. She questioned what he was doing. He starts groping her and she questions him again. He reportedly tells her he just wants to cuddle, but she says no and gets up and leaves the bedroom.

According to the woman’s statement, she then sits in the recliner in the living room and sees while she was in the bedroom Graffius had put a porn flick in the DVD player and was watching it. Then Graffius strips out of his pants and stands between her and the door. He climbs on top of her and she tells him to stop and hits the wall. At one point she convinces him she needs to use the bathroom. He had her phone and she was trying to figure out what to do to escape from the bathroom.

Bickerton said when she opens the bathroom door to see where she is, he grabs her, throws her into the bedroom and rapes her. Afterward, Bickerton said, Graffius apologized, asked the woman if she was mad at him and hugged her, even complaining that she was not returning his first hug attempt. The woman then asked for her phone and he gave it to her before she left the apartment. She called 911 after she left.

Sgt. Wade Boley, serving as the city’s detective at the time, testified nothing he found when he investigated the case differed from the information the adult woman told them had happened. Additionally, a DNA swab taken from Graffius after a search warrant was obtained matched the DNA from sperm collected by a nurse specializing in obtaining evidence for rape kits.

The apartment was laid out as the woman had told them and a porn DVD was in the tray of the player. Empty Coors Light cans and the box they came in were all sitting there and so was the recliner. Boley said he collected about 10 items for evidence in the apartment.

He also asked the woman to allow them to check her cell phone messages for evidence and found no evidence there had been any prior sexual relationship between the two of them.

The jurors also heard from Kelli Hephner of the Columbiana EMS who took the woman’s vital signs that night after she gave her initial statement. The woman was feeling dizzy and reportedly having elevated blood pressure after giving her statement to police. According to Hephner, the victim appeared “scared and was complaining about some pain.” Hephner transported her to the hospital.

Although the two defense attorneys appointed to Graffius’ case have not had an opportunity to present their case yet, during opening statements defense attorney Christopher Weeda said there are things in the woman’s statement and the timeline which do not add up.

At one point during cross examination he asked Boley if the window in the bathroom was open or not. Boley said he did not notice. He also questioned Whitfield whether he thought it was strange none of the other people living in the surrounding apartments heard any of this happening. He said he did not.

The trial will continue at 10 a.m. today.