"I didn't try to hurt her," Lonnie Flagg told a Montgomery County jury as his attempted murder trial entered its second day. "I thought we really liked each other. I just thought she was the best person I ever met in my life."
Flagg, 52, formerly of Carson Street in Phoenixville, is accused of violently using his hands to choke Gloria Nugent into unconsciousness during an argument inside her Belmont Street home in Pottstown last July 9. Prosecutors alleged Flagg was angry with Nugent when she didn't give him a ride from a doctor's appointment in Phoenixville.
A day later, prosecutors alleged, Flagg used his car to try to run Nugent and her daughter, Amy Jo Rudisill, off the road as he followed them on their way to the police station after Rudisill convinced Nugent to press charges against Flagg for the alleged choking incident.
In addition to attempted murder, Flagg is charged with aggravated and simple assault, recklessly endangering another person, and making terroristic threats in connection with both incidents and faces more than a decade in jail if convicted of the charges. The jury of 10 men and two women will begin deliberating the case today.
While Flagg conceded he and Nugent argued July 9, he testified he simply used his hands to push Nugent "out of the way" as they argued.
Using his lawyer John I. McMahon Jr. as a prop, Flagg demonstrated how he placed his hands on Nugent's neck and shoulder area and pushed her onto a bed when she became erratic and screamed at him and grabbed at his face during the argument.
"Were you intending to kill her? Were you choking her?" McMahon asked Flagg.
"No. She was my friend," Flagg, calmly testified, adding he loved Nugent.
On Tuesday, Nugent testified she believed she was going to die when Flagg choked her. While allegedly strangling Nugent, Flagg told her, "This is a game. I'm enjoying it and I'm going to watch you die. Call your daughters and say goodbye, because you're going to die. You'll never get rid of me," according to Assistant District Attorney Barbara Ashcroft. Flagg denied making those statements to Nugent.
At one point during Flagg's testimony, Nugent left the courtroom, appearing to be overcome with emotion and choking back tears.
Testimony revealed Flagg and Nugent met in January 2002 through Nugent's work with a Phoenixville social service agency. Nugent testified she helped Flagg, who was on welfare, by offering him odd jobs around her home.
While Nugent characterized Flagg as nothing more than a handyman, Flagg testified Wednesday that he and Nugent became romantically involved, traveled together to the Great Adventure Amusement Park and Atlantic City and took walks on the beach.
"We bonded really quick, just instantly," Flagg maintained, adding Nugent was going through a divorce at the time. "She would cry on my shoulder. We started getting closer. She wanted me to move in."
Flagg maintained he lived at Nugent's home between March and July of 2003 and testified about intimate encounters he allegedly had with Nugent, even describing a scar on an intimate part of her body. "How's he going to know about the scar if he's just the guy cleaning the yard?" McMahon argued to the jury during his closing argument.
McMahon argued that Flagg had a key to Nugent's home and kept personal belongings there, evidence he lived there. McMahon implied Nugent also was abusing a prescription pain medication at the time of the alleged incident and was prone to erratic behavior.
During her emotional testimony Tuesday, Nugent adamantly denied that she and Flagg were romantically involved and denied that she was addicted to prescription painkillers.
While Nugent testified she was afraid to report the choking incident to police or leave her home after the July 9 incident, Flagg testified he and Nugent spent the day together working in her garden and even having a picnic of take-out sandwiches at a Phoenixville park after the argument.
McMahon argued prosecutors presented no corroborative or medical evidence that Nugent was strangled. He characterized Nugent as a woman with emotional problems who "exaggerated or outright fabricated" some of the alleged events.
"You don't have much more than her word," McMahon said to the jury.
However, Ashcroft alleged Flagg preyed upon Nugent, a lonely and vulnerable woman who reached out to help him.
"Gloria Nugent was chosen by (Flagg) because she was recently traumatized by a divorce. She was emotional. She was everything that makes her the perfect victim. She was his perfect victim," Ashcroft told the jury during her closing argument. "This woman brought him into her house. She made that mistake but don't hold that against her."
Ashcroft maintained Flagg could calmly testify and deny the alleged incidents because "The defendant has no conscience."
Ashcroft pointed out that Flagg rented an apartment on High Street in Pottstown and that his driver's license was registered to the Phoenixville address, evidence he wasn't living with Nugent.
Nugent maintained she didn't initially report the July 9 assault to police because she promised Flagg she wouldn't report it and because she was afraid. However, on July 10 Nugent and her daughter were driving to the police station to report the assault when Flagg used his car to strike the women's car twice, trying to run the women off the road, Ashcroft alleged.
Flagg testified he came upon the car of the two women by sheer coincidence and that the contact between the cars was accidental.