By Emanuella Grinberg
BOSTON (Court TV) – A Boston jury deliberated for less than three hours Friday before acquitting a criminal defense lawyer and former prosecutor of two counts of rape.
The four-day trial in Suffolk County Superior Court marked Gary Zerola’s third time facing a jury on sexual misconduct allegations, and his third time beating the charges.
Zerola was acquitted in two separate trials in 2008 based on similar allegations of nonconsensual sexual activity with younger woman after a night of heavy drinking. Throughout, Zerola has described himself as the target of false accusations by opportunistic young women with whom he mistakenly got entangled through hard-partying.
“I’m just thankful the jury had an open mind. They listened to all the facts,” Zerola told reporters after the verdict.
READ MORE: MA v. Gary Zerola Daily Trial Updates
Zerola once tried out for “The Bachelor” and made “People” magazine’s list of America’s top 50 bachelors in 2001 for his good looks and work with foster children. He worked as an assistant district attorney in Essex County for one year, then in the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office for two months in 2000 before going into private practice as a criminal defense lawyer.
Various women have come forward with allegations against Zerola dating back to 1996, but none have resulted in criminal convictions or findings of wrongdoing. Zerola told Court TV in 2009 that clients have sought him out based on his personal experience with false accusations.
Prosecutors have argued in pretrial motions that Zerola is a serial predator who targets women decades younger than him by plying them with alcohol and getting them to a private setting where he can take advantage of them in their intoxicated state. But in each of Zerola’s trials, a judge’s ruling has prevented prosecutors from making that argument in front of a jury.
The accusers in Zerola’s 2008 trials were both 19 and Zerola was in his 30s during their encounters with him in 2004 and 2006. Both women said he plied them with alcohol and brought them to his apartment, where one woman said he tried to rape her and the other said he raped and sodomized her. Both trials resulted in not-guilty verdicts.
Zerola’s accuser in this trial was 23 years old when she said 45-year-old Zerola forced himself on her after a night of bar-hopping in 2016. She knew him through a friend and coworker who Zerola was having a sexual relationship with in 2016. On the night of November 9, 2016, the two met Zerola and a friend of his at a Boston bar. The next morning, she said awoke to find Zerola assaulting her on his friend’s couch.
The two women were the Commonwealth’s only witnesses to testify in detail to the night in question. Zerola’s friend was not called as a witness – possibly, the defense suggested outside the jury’s presence, because he would testify to seeing the alleged victim and Zerola kissing at his apartment before everyone crashed for the night. The only other witness was a bartender who said she saw Zerola kiss the alleged victim at the bar.
Zerola’s lawyers argued the women were “liars” whose accounts couldn’t be trusted. The defense drew attention to their inconsistent statements to police about the night in question and the nature of their relationship with Zerola, some of which conflicted with their testimony on the witness stand.
The alleged victim initially told police that Zerola contacted her that night and invited the women to meet him for drinks. It turned out that she was the one who called him after seeing him on Snapchat and reaching out to him.
At the bar where the two women met Zerola and his friend, the alleged victim told police that Zerola kissed her and she pushed him away because she would never “hook up” with him. Then in May 2023 – weeks before the trial’s start — Zerola’s defense gave prosecutors videos showing her pulling Zerola’s face toward hers and kissing him. The jury saw both videos.
Under loud, rapid-fire questioning from Zerola’s lawyer, Rosemary Scappichio, the woman said she didn’t recall kissing Zerola until she saw the video because of how drunk she was. She also said she didn’t think it was relevant to the issue of whether she consented sexual activity with Zerola.
After falling asleep on the couch, she said she awoke to Zerola with his fingers’ in her vagina. “What the f—ck are you doing?” she said she yelled, pointing out the she had her period and that her friend was nearby. Zerola said nothing, she testified, and instead pulled down her pants and put his penis in her vagina.
“Get the f—ck off me,” she said she yelled before standing up, at which point he stopped. She accepted a ride from him to the train station where she left her car because she didn’t know what to do, she said.
“I’m not gonna call someone, Gary’s an attorney,” she remembered thinking to herself. “I was 23 years old at the time and when you’re in a state of shock like that, you’re trying to come up with something to do.”
The alleged victim’s friend, Colleen Daley, also faced combative questioning from Zerola’s lawyers about her conflicting statements. After failing to return investigators’ calls for 10 days, they met her at her job in late November. She told police she didn’t remember anything about that night because she was drunk. On the witness stand, she said she recalled meeting Zerola and “drinking a lot” of vodka sodas that he ordered continuously. She testified at trial that everyone was kissing at the bar and taking selfies, but she didn’t tell that to police and only told the grand jury that it was Zerola who kissed her friend.
Daley testified she was asleep on the same couch as her friend when the woman claimed Zerola attacked her, but Daley said she didn’t see or hear it. She awoke to her friend shaking her and saying they had to leave, she testified. Later, as they were walking to Zerola’s car, Daley said her friend told her that Zerola tried to “hook up” with her. Daley said she thought she meant he had tried to kiss her, nothing more. On cross, she agreed with the defense that she would not have gotten in Zerola’s car had her friend told her that he raped her.
Under questioning by the defense, it came out that both women failed to reveal to police how well they knew Zerola. Daley said she did not disclose her relationship with him, which by then included months of dates and trips to Miami and Las Vegas, because she was scared and embarrassed.
The alleged victim told police that the only times she’d been alone with Zerola were when he visited the spa where she worked for treatments. She declined his invitations to dinner and pedicures, she testified, but agreed to let him take her and her friends out for her birthday. After dinner and clubbing, the women went to Zerola’s Salem and stayed overnight. At some point during their stay, the alleged victim rode on Zerola’s motorcycle with him, details that she insisted she told police and prosecutors about.
But Zerola’s defense told the jury that they were the ones to uncover the information about her sleeping at his home and riding his motorcycle. At the close of the Commonwealth’s case, Special Assistant District Attorney Tom Brant read aloud a stipulation: the alleged victim did not disclose the information until May 2023, after the defense brought it to prosecutors’ attention.
“Did she have a come to Jesus moment to set the record straight? No!” defense lawyer Joseph Krowski said in the defense closing argument. “The party with no burden sent the pictures and finally – May 15 — she finally says I did go up there. She admitted to lying.
“And what does a liar do? They double down. Not only did she lie… when she got up on witness stand, she lied about her lie,” Krowski continued. “If shes willing to lie about that, how do you strip away the presumption of innocence [from Zerola]? The truth is, you don’t.”
Krowski emphasized the stipulation and other prior inconsistent statements from both to support his argument that they couldn’t be trusted.
Prosecutor Brant said the alleged victim’s inconsistent statements were irrelevant to the issue of consent the morning of November 10, 2016 and irrelevant to the investigation.
“The police didn’t ask about things they didn’t know about,” Brant said, such as who kissed who in the bar that night, whether she’d ever been to Zerola’s house or ridden his motorcycle.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this happened six years ago. It didn’t happen 106 years ago in a society far, far away,” Brant said.
“The Commonwealth has the burden to prove there was no consent and we welcome it… consent is a conscious decision and in 2016, asking for a motorcycle ride three months ago is not consent. Having dinner is not consent. Following a Snapchat story is not consent. Calling someone to meet you in a bar… kissing them back in a bar is not consent… letting a guy buy drinks is not consent, sitting in his lap is not consent. One of them on top of each other is not consent.
“And they most certainly do not give Gary Zerola consent to penetrate [the alleged victim’s] vagina when she’s asleep after a night of drinking.”
Zerola has another trial pending based on accusations that another woman reported in 2021 while Zerola was out on bail awaiting this trial. The woman also knew Zerola through a friend who was dating him. After a night of heavy drinking with Zerola and her friend, she said she woke to find Zerola forcing himself on her.
Prosecutors tried to combine the 2016 and 2021 allegations into one case to be heard by a jury based on their similarities. A judge denied the request, finding it would prejudice Zerola’s right to a fair trial.