S.F. notables testify in defense of rape suspect

The rape trial of a high-profile member of San Francisco’s literary scene has drawn little public attention, but some big political and literary personalities have testified on behalf of the defendant.

Former supervisor and 2003 mayoral candidate Matt Gonzalez, California Poet Laureate Albert Young and San Francisco Poet Laureate Jack Hirschman have all taken the stand as character witnesses for Justin Desmangles.

The 37-year-old radio host and producer who organized readings at bookstores and the San Francisco Public Library stands accused of rape, sodomy by force and assault with a deadly weapon for allegedly using an extension cord to choke his victim in a rough sex session gone awry.

Desmangles took the stand Thursday as the final witness for the defense, following an appearance by Young in which he identified Desmangles as a friend, with whom he had an “avuncular” relationship. “He is the least violent person I have ever met,” Young said.

In his testimony Thursday, Desmangles stated that the alleged victim, whose full name has been withheld from the public, initiated the rough element of their sexual relationship. The 33-year-old woman had recently moved from New Orleans to San Francisco and was enthusiastic about The City’s literary scene. Desmangles said that on the night in question, he had picked up a cord and choked her playfully with it during sex, after taking precautions to make sure she could call it off. She did not call it off, he said. She later claimed she was raped.

Gonzalez took the stand on Desmangles’ behalf Wednesday. Reached by telephone Thursday, he declined to comment further on the case.

Desmangles, a Sacramento native, made a name for himself in San Francisco’s literary scene organizing readings in stores such as Bird and Beckett Books in Glen Park and City Lights Bookstore in North Beach.

Young, who acted as best man at Desmangles’ wedding, said Desmangles had a talent for reaching out to high-profile writers. Desmangles interviewed Young twice on a literary show he hosted for KPOO. That show included a “Good Eats” section hosted by Laura Albert, also known by her pen name, JT Leroy.

In addition to his work for KPOO and the library, Desmangles published articles on jazz music and worked at SmokeSignals newsstand on Polk Street.

The trial is due to resume Monday, with the prosecution cross-examining Desmangles, the final witness for the defense.

amartin@examiner.com

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