At rape trial in Douglas County, woman says friend and work associate assaulted her multiple times

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World

Axel R. Bordelon is pictured during a jury trial on Feb. 7, 2023, in DOuglas County District Court. Bordelon is accused of multiple sex crimes against a woman.

A woman testified Tuesday in Douglas County District Court that she was sexually assaulted multiple times by a friend and work associate who is now standing trial for numerous sex crimes.

The accused, Axel R. Bordelon, 30, of Council Bluffs, Iowa, is charged with one felony count of rape of a 19-year-old woman, one felony count of attempted rape, two felony counts of aggravated sexual battery and three felony counts of aggravated criminal sodomy, according to charging documents. Bordelon lived in Lawrence at the time of the alleged crimes.

The woman, now 27, testified that the first few incidents occurred more than nine years ago, in June or July of 2014, when she said Bordelon, her then friend and work associate, grabbed her arm while they were in his apartment, forced her into his bedroom and assaulted her. She said she pleaded with Bordelon to stop, but he did not. She said she punched him in the face but promised that she would not report him to police.

The woman said that the two continued to socialize afterward. She testified that during the following months, Bordelon, who now goes by they/them pronouns but used he/him at the time of the alleged incidents, assaulted her several more times at both his and her apartment. She said that after the first assault, her body developed a trauma response, a kind of “freezing,” that was triggered during the subsequent assaults.

“I was in a heavy dissociative state, floating, numb,” she said.

The woman testified that she never reported any of the assaults to police, friends or coworkers. She said that she did her best to just pretend nothing had happened.

The woman said she first met Bordelon during her freshman year at the University of Kansas in 2012, when she was 17. She said she joined the Anime Club at the university and posted in the club’s Facebook group, hoping to find people who could help her with a comic book she was working on. She said Bordelon was the first to respond to her post.

The two began working on the project together, she said, and Bordelon eventually turned the project into a limited liability company.

Bordelon sometimes stayed at the woman’s apartment and would sometimes sleep in her bed with her, she said. The woman testified that she is asexual and that it wasn’t an issue to share a bed with Bordelon. She said the two never had a romantic or sexual relationship.

The woman testified that she finally broke off the friendship in November of 2014 after the two had a fight and she thought to herself that she could “no longer live like this.” She said she tried to continue working on the project afterward but could not bring herself to.

Bordelon’s defense attorney, Hatem Chahine, showed the woman a copy of the document that organized the comic book project into an LLC, which was dated Jan. 1, 2015. Chahine asked the woman why she would enter into a contract with someone who had repeatedly assaulted her and after she had ended her friendship with Bordelon.

The woman said she wanted the comic book project to survive. She compared the comic to “the baby that two women were fighting over and the king threatened to cut the baby in half and she couldn’t stand to see her baby cut in half,” she testified.

Contact between Bordelon and the woman came to a final close in February 2016. The woman said that she had “officially resigned” from the LLC in September 2015 but that Bordelon said she would have to sign off on the paperwork to give up her rights to the intellectual property that she created for the project; that paperwork took a few months for Bordelon to prepare.

The woman said Bordelon then paid her $300 for her part of the company. The woman testified that when she left Bordelon she gave the money “to the first bystander she passed” and that if she had kept the money she would have torn it up.

The woman first reported the incidents to police in 2020, when she said she had finally come to terms with the assaults. She said the realization that made her alert law enforcement was a combination of learning that the statute of limitations had not expired, what she called “global events,” and reading a lot about sexual assault.

“Rape and sexual assault are a very shameful thing, and some people never talk about it,” she testified.

Assistant District Attorney Ricardo Leal asked the woman if she felt shame in connection with the incidents.

“Yes. But not anymore,” the woman replied.

At the end of testimony Tuesday, the defense rested its case after Bordelon chose not to testify. Closing arguments in the case are scheduled for 9 a.m. Wednesday.