EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 25, 2013

Jury finds 'red car rapist' guilty

By Jill Harmacinski
jharmacinski@eagletribune.com

---- — METHUEN — Kenneth Poirier, dubbed the “red car rapist,” was convicted yesterday of the aggravated rape of a woman he picked up at gunpoint outside Lawrence boarding house, drove to woods in Methuen and sexually assaulted on May 23, 2010.

Poirier, 42, formerly of Methuen, who has also lived in Merrimac and Pelham, N.H., will be sentenced this morning by Judge Mary Ames in Lawrence Superior Court. He faces a maximum sentence of life in state prison.

Jurors yesterday afternoon convicted Poirier of one count of rape involving oral sex and acquitted him on a second rape charge.

He previously faced six rape-related charges involving two victims. Two counts of aggravated rape and single counts of kidnapping and indecent assault and battery were dropped before trial, however.

Poirier was accused of trapping women in the red Pontiac Grand Am he drove. The red Grand Am belonged to his mother.

DNA taken from a cigarette butt at the Methuen crime scene also linked Poirier to five additional rapes, including one when he was a teen. To date, he’s only faced trial for the May 23, 2010, Methuen rape and has not been charged in connection with the five additional DNA hits. He’s been held in jail on $50,000 bail since the DNA hits were discovered last November.

A heavyset man with a acne-marked complexion, Poirier briefly took the stand in his own defense yesterday morning. He said he thought the woman was a prostitute and the sex they engaged in was consensual. Poirier told jurors he picked her up on a Broadway (Route 28) street corner in Lawrence after just leaving a card game in Methuen.

“I was looking for a companion. Maybe a prostitute,” Poirier said.

After driving to Methuen, to the Old Ferry Road area, Poirier said the woman performed oral sex on him. He asked her to stop after she accidentally bit him slightly, he said. Then he refused to pay her and she became mad, he claimed.

“She threatened me and became angry,” he said, adding the woman got out of the car and said she was going to take down his license plate.

But the victim described the sex as anything but consensual, saying Poirier initially asked for directions while he was smoking a cigarette outside her South Union Street boarding house in Lawrence. Then, he forced her into the Pontiac Grand Am he was driving at gunpoint. And when they arrived at Old Point Road in Methuen, the woman said Poirier raped her twice, once with the seatbelt wrapped around her neck.

When Poirier eventually let the woman out of the car to urinate, the victim said she ran from the area and flagged down Methuen patrol Officer Neil Quinlan who was parked at a red stoplight in a marked cruiser. She told Quinlan she’d just been raped.

In his closing argument yesterday, Poirier’s defense attorney, John Morris, said the case was all about revenge.

“Revenge for not being paid for a sexual act,” Morris said. He asked jurors to reject the rape charges, saying the victim showed no bruising or marks after the assault and failed to report key details of the crime to police.

And when the victim saw the police officer on patrol that night, “she saw a moment and decided that’s how she’d get even,” Morris said.

Prosecutor Kate MacDougall had described the victim as a damaged woman that Poirier looked at and decided was “expendable.”

“That he could use as he wished,” she said.

However, MacDougall said Poirier badly underestimated the woman, who “walked in literally off the streets and relived the horror” of her rape for jurors last Friday.

“There is no manual on how you are expected to behave when you are sexually assaulted ... (She) did what she had to do to survive,” MacDougall said.

Poirier had no relatives or friends present for the trial, which started late last week.

In addition to Quinlan, Methuen Police Detective John Delano, along with State Police DNA analysts testified during the trial.

Methuen Police Chief Joseph Solomon said he was pleased with the guilty verdict. And he praised the victim “for her strength and courage to come forward and testify.”

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Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter under the screenname EagleTribJill.