WILKES-BARRE — Suspended state trooper Carrie Ann Gula spent her 36th birthday in Luzerne County Court, taking the stand in her own defense as the final witness in a trial over allegations she hacked into her ex-boyfriend’s computer account and then lied about him assaulting her.
“I had complete access to his account,” Gula said of Eric Thomas’ online cellphone records on the My Verizon site. “Why would I change a password I already have?”
Instead, Gula said that in the wake of her concerns about infidelity and about Thomas being friends with a man who had drug ties, Thomas agreed in the summer of 2012 to reset Thomas’ My Verizon password to one they both would remember: a combination of Gula’s initials and state police badge number. Thomas agreed to this, Gula said, so she could view records showing with whom he had been communicating.
Gula, of West Pittston, faces charges of computer trespassing, criminal use of a communication facility, unlawful use of a computer and making false reports to police for allegedly telling troopers that Thomas assaulted her at his Exeter home on Aug. 1, 2012. Assistant District Attorney Jenny Roberts is prosecuting the case, with county Judge Lesa Gelb presiding. Joseph Nocito is representing Gula.
Gula was placed on restricted duty on Aug. 9, 2012, and suspended after her arrest in December of that year.
Gula said she even logged onto the My Verizon account to pay Thomas’ cellphone bill, at his direction.
But as testimony unfolded Wednesday, it seemed that the question hung largely on whether Gula tried to access the account after she learned the password had been changed that Aug. 1, when Thomas advised her by text message: “Don’t be playing with my account,” and forwarded her a text message from Verizon indicating that his password had been changed.
Thomas testified Tuesday he changed his own My Verizon password amid fears that Gula may have improperly accessed the account, but never told Gula about the change and initially did not admit making the change when interviewed by state police investigating the case.
Gula testified Wednesday she had tried to help Thomas get to the bottom of the password change, while talking with him in his bathroom the night of Aug. 1, 2012, by logging onto My Verizon using the browser on her own phone.
Later, when she went home after the fight, Gula said she found the My Verizon page still active on her browser, but Gula said two recorded access attempts from her phone would have been inadvertent.
Thomas testified Tuesday that he understood Gula would be at work until 11 on the night in question. When he heard noises downstairs while showering, sometime after 9 p.m., Thomas said he ran downstairs to find Gula leaving with what he believed was his phone. He said he tried to grab his phone from her, but never assaulted her. He claimed he suffered bruises from several falls in the process — one over a chair as they struggled — and that Gula kicked him in the knee.
Gula’s account on Wednesday painted a much different picture.
She acknowledged leaving work early at the Fern Ridge barracks in Blakeslee and driving to Thomas’ house. There — where Gula said she had spent the previous night and already had a key, with Thomas’ blessing — she let herself in and went up to the second-floor bathroom, where Thomas was showering.
Gula said she sat down on the toilet, where “I asked him if he had figured out his password.” Gula acknowledged that records showing someone accessed the account twice in that period were done by her on her own phone, with Thomas in the room and aware that she was trying to help him determine what had happened to his account.
The two had the same model cellphone, testimony revealed. When Thomas thought Gula was handling his phone, he jumped out of the shower, Gula said, and the scuffle began.
Gula said Thomas swiped an armful of her personal items off the vanity and onto the floor, put out an arm to block her and then kicked the bathroom door as she tried to leave. Gula did get out, and ran down three steps into the kitchen, with the wet and naked Thomas in pursuit.
He picked up and damaged a kitchen chair, she said, and “kept blocking my passage.” She said she ran into a downstairs bathroom and tried to lock herself in, but failed because Thomas had a grip on the door, overpowering her and knocking off a mirror on the inside of the door.
“I kept telling him, ‘This is my phone,’ ” Gula said.
She ran back out into the kitchen. There, Gula said, Thomas grabbed her, grabbed her by the neck and spit on her state police uniform shirt. Then, she said, he placed his thumb into a pressure point in the back of her ear.
“I kicked him,” Gula said, adding she was then able to leave.
Gula’s testimony was the subject of intense cross-examination by Roberts, who homed in on details ranging from damage to Thomas’ chair and mirror to numerous calls and text messages from Gula to Thomas even after the fight.
But the heart of Roberts’ questioning focused on inconsistencies the prosecutor underscored between Gula’s testimony about the scuffle and what three other law enforcement officers told jurors they remembered Gula telling them about her encounter with Thomas.
Those individuals were Gula’s then supervisor, Lt. Sean Jennings; Trooper Lisa Brogan, with the criminal investigation unit at state police Troop P in Wyoming; and Luzerne County Detective Charles Balogh, an acquaintance from whom Gula said she sought advice.
In particular, Roberts wanted to know why she had never before heard Gula’s account of her being in the bathroom with Thomas as he showered.
Jennings on Tuesday testified that when Gula reported the incident to him the following day, she told him Thomas’ cellphone rang while she was in the kitchen, then she picked it up — as was not uncommon — and saw a woman’s name flashing. As Thomas entered, Gula said she asked about the call and he began to assault her, Jennings said Gula told him.
Roberts stood before Gula, paperwork in hand, noting that she couldn’t find any reference to the bathroom conversation in Gula’s signed statement given to Brogan.
“I know that I didn’t tell Trooper Brogan that I sat down to use the bathroom,” Gula retorted.
“You actually are saying this for the very first time, to the jury, correct?” Roberts asked.
“Correct,” replied Gula, adding: “I thought that it was totally irrelevant. I didn’t know it was going to lead to computer crimes or anything.”
Roberts pressed Gula on witness testimony that Gula said she picked up Thomas’ phone and saw that a woman named Linda was calling. Gula denied this, adding: “I never got a chance to look at it.”
“So, all three people just coincidentally put in their reports that it was a woman?” Roberts asked.
“I guess so,” Gula said.
Closing statements are scheduled to begin Thursday morning.