Here is the sixth installment in my series of excerpts prior to the publication of my new book: Sex, Lies, and Two Hindu Gurus. This is Chapter 104. It appears in Part Six, which provides insight into Prakashananand Saraswati’s criminal trial last year. You can pre-order the book on this website now. All book orders will be fulfilled on the book’s official launch date: February 15, 2012. Order now and save $5 off the price of $14.99.
Day Two – Backroom Confidential
Wednesday, February 23, 2011.
“This is a very simple case—this is a case about one man and his choices,” said Amy Lockhart, assistant district attorney for Hays County. “This case is simply about what he did, as a man, to two young girls.”
Thus began the criminal trial of the State of Texas versus Prakashanand Saraswati.
I wasn’t allowed in the courtroom during the trial because I was a potential witness. Cathy thought that it would be good to have an adult handy in case she needed to refute something incriminating that one of the defense witnesses might claim about ashram life. I had not witnessed the crimes, but I had experienced life in the ashram for 15 years. That is how I ended up in the tiny witness room with the girls for the first few days of the trial.
During the time I was in the courthouse, I stayed at Kathi and Wayne’s home. I drove the back roads through the Texas Hill country to the San Marcos courthouse everyday, stopping at Whataburger for coffee and breakfast to go.
On the first day of the trial, I arrived early—only to discover that the parking lot was already filling with devotees, who were lining up in front of the building. I had no idea how I would feel being around these people, most of whom I had not seen in almost three years. I locked my car, took a deep break, and walked to the front entrance of the courthouse.
As I reached the main doors, I was surrounded by devotees. None of them looked directly at me, but I could sense their furtive glances. I felt nothing. I could have been in line at a grocery store among people I had never met before. These people, whom I had once known so well, were strangers to me now. I was completely surprised—but very, very pleased—that they no longer had the power to intimidate me.
Once I was inside, I met up with the girls in Cathy’s office. All three of them were each dressed beautifully in prim outfits, much more business-like than the clothes they usually wore. But their smart attire could not hide their extreme nervousness. A few minutes before 9:00 a.m., Allison and an armed guard escorted us to the witness room. We walked down a long narrow hallway that opened up into a large square space with high ceilings near the courtroom. There were a few chairs along the walls. Another shorter hallway led to the doors of a second courtroom, where Prakash’s trial was about to begin.
The witness room was just off the large square hallway space. It was tiny and crowded with an overstuffed love seat and two matching chairs. There were also two large square end tables, a few kitchen table style chairs, and a dorm-size refrigerator. One wall contained a cupboard and book shelves overflowing with children’s toys and books. A small TV sat on top of the cupboard. This would be the girls’ new home for the next seven days—and mine, for next four days
Allison kept the door into the room open to keep the air circulating in the stuffy, small space. As a result, we could see everyone going into or coming out of the courtroom.
The girls could not relax. They sat like wound up springs, read to bounce. The first day was the worst, because they had no idea when they would be called into the courtroom to testify. Cathy had not revealed her trial strategy in advance. She had only said that she thought the order would be Vesla, Shyama, then Kate.
There was no bathroom in the witness room. Rather than risk running into devotees in the public restroom, we used a private bathroom located near the prosecution offices. At about 10:00 a.m., Vesla and Shyama asked Allison to take them to the bathroom.
Two minutes later, one of the assistants came in looking for Kate. “Cathy just asked for you in the courtroom.” Kate stood straight up, eyes wide like the proverbial deer in the headlights.
“Do you want a hug?” I asked.
“Sure,” she said, turning round with a leap, I gave her a quick hug of encouragement. She was stiff, like a soldier called to duty, as she marched down the hallway towards the courtroom.
The girls and Allison returned minutes later. “Where’s Kate?”
“She was just called into the courtroom,” I said. “As it turns out, she’s the first witness.”
Kate returned to the witness room at about 11:30 a.m., a bundle of nerves. The worst part now was that she could not talk about anything with us.
Allison had us leave early for lunch so we could beat the devotees out of the building. Kate was still so worked up that she couldn’t eat. She had us stop for cigarettes, and she smoked outside while the rest of us ate.
Kate was called back into the courtroom right after lunch, and was in there for the next three hours. To pass the time, I started working on my computer. Shyama and Allison started playing a computer game called “Angry Birds,” which helped pass time and calmed Shyama’s nerves. Vesla sat quietly in one of the big chairs, lost in her own thoughts.
Later, from the court transcriptions, I learned every detail about the trial proceedings. The trial began with the two sides making their opening statements, including the prosecution detailing the twenty charges of indecency with children against Prakash. Then Cathy called in Kate.
The defense was not happy when Cathy called Kate as her first witness, as evidenced by the dialogue between Cathy and the two lead defense lawyers, Jo Angelyn Gates and Jeff Kearney.
Gates: “We would like an offer of proof as to what Kate Tonnessen is going to testify to and a hearing if there’s going to be any allegations under 404(b). That has not been determined. She is not a victim in this case.”
Cathy: “Well, Your Honor, we put them on notice, and the law clearly states that if their defense is fabrication that we can bring in other witnesses to talk about his acts with them. And I think clearly, from counsel’s opening, that shows their defense certainly is fabrication.”
Judge Ramsay: “Defense request is denied.”
Kearney: “Your Honor –”
Judge Ramsay: “Proceed.”
Amy Lockhart interviewed Kate.
Amy: “Can you tell the jury about the circumstances for the first time he did something to you?”
Kate: “Yes. I was 14 years old. And as we did every day, we watched him eat his morning meal and his evening meal in a large group. And on this day, he was sitting in a room aside from where he normally did on a large papasan chair. It’s a big, round chair. And all the children always would sit as close as possible to him. And I was sitting to his side, and he grabbed me and pulled me in so I was leaning onto the papasan and him on his lap when, with a whole audience, he somehow was able to – he wrapped his arm around me and put it up my shirt and began pinching my nipples and fondling my breasts. I believed that that – because we were in front of so many people, I mean, I was just shocked. Now, prior to this he had been – he had started kissing me in a more passionate way. He would never – his tongue never penetrated my mouth, but he would kiss me where when – and for prolonged periods of time and rub his – his tongue against my lips.”
Amy: “Okay. Kate, how old were you when he started doing that?”
Kate: “12 to 13.”
Kate then described how she had shut herself in her bedroom for three days in despair after the papasan chair incident, how her mother had read her diary, and how her mother had forced her to go to Prakash to “work things out.”
Amy: “So you were able to tell Swami Ji how he had made you feel?”
Amy: “And what did he say to you?”
Kate: “He said it was a test.”