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Maui dressing room sex assault victim testifies

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WAILUKU » The victim of a Maui dressing room sexual assault testified in court wearing sunglasses and a black scarf around her head because she was afraid of the defendant getting a better look at her.

During a preliminary hearing Wednesday for Charles Cowans, the 33-year-old woman testified that she thought she was going to die during the violent attack Friday in a small dressing room of the store where she works, the Maui News reported. He lunged at her, dragged her into the dressing room and blocked the entrance with a shelf, she said.

"I grabbed his head and tried to bite his ear, but couldn’t," she said. "I tried to wiggle out of his bear hug. He let go and said, ‘We’re going to have sex.’"

He ripped her denim shorts in half. She tried to dive through a space between the floor and the bottom of a wall, she said. She was halfway out as he held her legs and sexually assaulted her and was "enraged" as he pulled her back into the dressing room.

He grabbed her by the hair to a standing position as she struggled and screamed. He began choking her so hard that she became faint, she said.

She said she managed to loosen his grip and struggled to get out through the small space.

"As soon as I stand up, I see a customer standing there in shock," she said. "I scream, ‘Help, he’s trying to rape me.’"

Cowans ran out the door, she said, and the customer chased after him.

Wailuku District Judge Adrianne Heely called her testimony credible and brave. Heely increased his bail to $1 million.

Prosecutors said Cowans had been released from the Maui Community Correctional Center the day before the assault. Police said he registered as a sex offender Friday morning.

He was sentenced to a year in jail after violating his probation in a 1991 case. Originally charged with murder, he pleaded no contest to kidnapping and attempted assault for an attack on an ex-girlfriend.

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