Felony hearing in Cortland rape case gets heated

Cortland City Hall

A city judge ruled Tuesday afternoon there was enough evidence to send the case against Raymond Cole Jr. for drugging, imprisoning and raping a woman over Memorial Day weekend to Cortland County Court.

“I think that the evidence is clear here,” said Judge Elizabeth Burns at the felony hearing. A felony hearing is held to determine if there is sufficient evidence to support felony charges levied against an individual; Cole was charged with first-degree rape, first-degree unlawful imprisonment, second-degree assault and third-degree criminal possession of a weapon, all felonies, as well as seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, a misdemeanor. “It is very clear to the court the people have met their burden,” Burns said, regarding the felony charges.

Felony hearings usually last only an hour or two, but the Tuesday hearing lasted from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 a.m., with an hour break for lunch, and was marked by extensive, sometimes contentious, questions by the defense.

Cole, 58, is accused of imprisoning, drugging and raping a 34-year-old woman at his 13 Brown Avenue home. The woman, identified in open court as Katie Pittsley, was questioned for more than an hour by the defense and spoke frankly about her struggles with drug addiction and recent release from city jail.

Taking a deep breath, Pittsley testified to how she was drugged, imprisoned and raped repeatedly.

Pittsley said she was in City Drug Court since January, relapsed while in rehab and voluntarily left treatment, spending 45 days in jail where she was forced to maintain sobriety.

“Yes, jail, it does get you off the streets,” Pittsley said. “(But) I don’t need jail, I need rehab.”

After she was released on May 29, she went with a friend to get some clothes Cole was storing for her in totes in his basement, Pittsley said. Cole had done drugs with Pittsley before, the pair had been “friends” and had previously lived together, she said. The next day Pittsley went back to Cole’s apartment to gather the rest of her things from a tote, pulling the tote out of one of two tents set up in the basement, Pittsley testified.

Pittsley said she had no intention of staying at Cole’s apartment or getting high.

“I can’t be there,” Pittsley said. “I’m trying to get my life together.” She explained on the stand she is trying to get back into rehab and get her life back together so she can regain custody of her children.

While she was squatting down to gather her things, Cole went down to the basement and started showing her things from a chest about three feet away that he said he had gotten for her, Pittsley said. The gifts included a heart-shaped diamond ring, bluetooth speakers and other costume jewelry, she said. He also pointed to bicycles he had gotten and filled half his basement with, Pittsley said.

During the conversation, Pittsley and Cole were sitting cross-legged on the floor, she said. Cole then turned the conversation to drugs and asked Pittsley if she would like any. When Pittsley refused, Cole attacked her, Pittsley testified.

“Then he pushed me onto the floor, then he straddled me and told me, ‘We can do this the easy way or the hard way,’” Pittsley said, noting she was trying to fight him off with her arms and legs. When he straddled her, Cole grabbed a syringe filled with bath salts from a closeby counter and sat on her torso facing her legs, she said.

“Then s— was going to get a lot worse, so I stopped,” Pittsley said. She noted on the stand that if Cole injected her and missed a vein, she could have developed an abscess at the location. “I told him I f—in’ hated him and he shot me up.”

Fenchel questioned Pittsley about how Cole could have physically held her down and injected her against her will, acting out the positions Pittsley was describing in the center of the courtroom as she explained.

“Help me understand what was involuntary about this injection,” Fenchel asked her.

“Mentally, physically and emotionally, I did not want to get high,” Pittsley said, adding she had planned on leaving town to get away from the drug culture in Cortland.

After she was high from the injection, Cole took off her clothes and raped her, Pittsley said. Then he ordered her into a cabinet in the basement, she said.

“I was told to get in the cabinet,” Pittsley said, adding she believed Cole would have hurt her if she refused. “I was threatened. That’s why I did what I was told.”

Every day between May 30 and June 3, Cole kept her for at least part of the day in the cabinet locked with a padlock, Pittsley testified. She said she was also allowed out into the basement at times and to the first floor of the apartment.

Cole also ordered her out to get a bicycle and bring it back, Pittsley said.

Fenchel asked if she remembered going to a diner and shoe-shopping with her Grandmother over the weekend she was at Cole’s.

“What diner? I never went to a diner?” Pittsley asked in confusion, adding that if her Grandmother said that happened she probably simply did not remember it because Cole had injected her with so much drugs. “Like I said, I was under the influence so how could I remember.”

Lt. Michael Strangeway noted after the hearing Tuesday that the length of time a person is imprisoned does not matter under the law.

“I don’t know whether or not her continuous detention was ever addressed,” Strangeway said, “but the involuntary detention of any person against their will for any period of time is unlawful.”

Pittsley said she was never free to fully leave the house until the police were called to the residence. A tipster told the department Cole was imprisoning a woman, drugging and raping her on June 3, according to the department.

After the police arrived and refused to leave, Cole opened the closet he was keeping her in the basement and told her to leave the house, Pittsley said.

“He let me out of the closet and told me to go out the back door,” Pittsley said, adding that Cole was going out the front because he “…didn’t want to get charged with everything that was in the basement.”

In addition, to the bicycles, officers found dozens of hypodermic needles all over the basement and apartment, according to the City Police Department.

“I don’t know when exactly the padlock had been removed,” she said. “It was removed the day the cops showed up.”

Fenchel questioned her as to if she really was hiding out over the weekend because she missed her City Court appearance while she was at Cole’s and a warrant was issued for her arrest.

“Why would you sit in a basement if you have a warrant?” Pittsley asked rhetorically in exasperation. “That’s stupid. You’re trapping yourself in.”

She also testified she did not know a warrant had been issued for her.

As Pittsley was brought in to testify, a male court officer walked her inches past Cole on the way to the witness stand as Pittsley sucked in a deep breath. After her lengthy, detailed testimony, a female court officer walked her down the aisle on the other side of the courtroom, avoiding walking past Cole.

Cole twice tried to communicate with Pittsley while she was on the stand, once by mouthing at her and once with a gesture.

“Mr. Cole, you are not to mouth anything to anyone in this courtroom,” Burns shouted at Cole, after the first incident at the beginning of Pittsley’s testimony. After the second, Burns warned him, “You learn to control yourself or we will make other arrangements.”

Throughout the hearing, Cole repeatedly talked in his lawyer’s ear and wrote notes, directing his Assigned Counsel Luke Fenchel to ask additional questions he designed, much to the frustration of Fenchel, Burns and the Assistant District Attorney Jessica Weyant.

“You’re running the cross-examination here,” Burns reminded Fenchel.