By NANCY WEST, InDepthNH.org
LANCASTER – Former state senator Jeffrey Woodburn got his chance after three years to take the witness stand Tuesday to tell his side of the domestic violence allegations against him.
Woodburn, 55, who is arguing self-defense, told jurors in Coos County Superior Court that he made mistakes in a volatile relationship with his former fiancée Emily Jacobs of Jefferson.
Jacobs, a social worker with two master’s degrees, painted their relationship Monday as her being dominated and abused by a politically powerful older man.
Woodburn testified that it was Jacobs who held all the power in their relationship.
He told jurors near the end of Tuesday’s session that he could be afraid of Jacobs.
“No one has ever hit me harder than Emily Jacobs,” Woodburn testified.
He didn’t explain further as Senior Assistant Attorney General Geoffrey Ward objected and Judge Peter Bornstein ended the day’s proceedings.
Woodburn has admitted to some of the allegations against him such as kicking Jacobs’ dryer door off its hinges and breaking the door on Jacobs’ home, but he said he has no recollection of one biting incident during an argument in a car.
He denied hitting Jacobs in the stomach with his fist during an argument over him taking Jacobs’ kids’ snacks.
“That didn’t happen,” Woodburn said.
When admitting to an allegation, Woodburn testified to what led to the violent outburst and the shame he felt afterward.
He also testified to his reaction to what he characterized as Jacobs berating him, especially during the fight that led to one of Jacobs’ bite wounds while she was driving.
“I felt like I was drowning,” Woodburn said. “I contemplated jumping out of the car.”
When Jacobs slowed the car down enough, Woodburn did jump out. She turned around and talked him into getting back in, Woodburn said.
Jacobs was already a powerhouse in her own right when he met her – doing great things for the Democratic party and attracting younger people, he told jurors.
But she could also be a bull in a china shop to some in the party, Woodburn said.
And most telling in their relationship, he said, Jacobs would do anything to keep from being abandoned.
Under direct and cross-examination, Jacobs told the jury of the abuse she suffered from Woodburn including being bitten twice, punched in the stomach with his fist, having a cup of water thrown at her face and having her property damaged from December of 2017 to June of 2018.
She did what she was told, Jacobs said, because Woodburn convinced her that she was the cause of their problems and it was up to her to fix the relationship.
Woodburn testified that he was at a low point when he first met her. His marriage was ending.
“I had gained a lot of weight. I didn’t see this as a possibility,” said Woodburn on day 2 of his trial.
But he was thrilled when Jacobs did signal interest. And he spoke lovingly of her to jurors while reading from entries in the journal he kept during their relationship.
He described the “great current of electricity” and “raw beautiful energy” he saw in her when she talked about politics that attracted him to Jacobs.
It was Woodburn’s same journal that Jacobs turned over to investigators at the Attorney General’s Office in the summer of 2018.
In it, Woodburn admits to some of the nine misdemeanor charges against him. Journal excerpts were read aloud to jurors earlier Tuesday by an investigator from the Attorney General’s Office.
The journal also includes commentary showing Woodburn’s remorse and desire to stop the violent outbursts.
It could be the way he chewed his food or that he brushed his teeth with hot water that could set Jacobs off, he said.
It could be any little thing, Woodburn testified.
He conceded that many of the arguments seem juvenile: He posted Christmas photos of his kids, not hers; he was doing his laundry at her home, using her detergent that led to her throwing his wet clothes on the lawn and him kicking the dryer door off its hinges.
“I made mistakes,” Woodburn said.
Taking the witness stand marked the first time jurors had more than a fleeting glance of Woodburn’s full face.
Members of the jury are seated socially distanced behind him in the courtroom gallery so they usually only see the back of his head seated next to his attorney Donna Brown.
The jury box in the courtoom is empty. Judge Bornstein ordered the press and public, including Woodburn’s girlfriend, daughter and Jacobs’ supporters, to watch the proceedings from an adjacent courtroom via live-stream video in keeping with new court protocols in domestic violence cases.
While testifying, witnesses wear a clear face mask to protect against COVID-19, instead of the cloth mask. Woodburn’s is the first jury trial in Coos County Superior Court since the pandemic started.
Although they both loved Democratic politics – Woodburn as a state senator who aspired to be governor, and Jacobs as chairman of the Coos County Democratic Committee and running for county treasurer, Woodburn couldn’t imagine what an attractive much younger woman would see in him, he told jurors.
Woodburn works as a line cook now, having lost his job for a nonprofit when the charges were brought. He lost the election that followed his Aug. 2, 2018 arrest while he was still in the state Senate.
Jacobs, a social worker, also lost her bid to become Coos County Treasurer and testified Monday that she lost her job as well.
Attorney Brown finished cross-examining Jacobs Tuesday morning asking what she told Dr. Paul Donahue, the Littleton therapist who counselled Jacobs and Woodburn as a couple and individually.
Donahue turned in his license to practice to the Board of Mental Health in March based on a complaint Jacobs filed claiming he put her in danger with disclosures he made about her to Woodburn.
Donahue told InDepthNH.org that he was targeted by the Attorney General’s Office to discredit him as a witness for Woodburn.
Brown said according to Donahue’s notes, Jacobs had trouble accepting reality about Woodburn leaving her.
Jacobs never mentioned the alleged assaults by Woodburn until her last session with Donahue, Brown said.
Brown said Jacobs met with the Attorney General’s Office in July 2018 to get back at Woodburn for leaving her.
Jacobs testified: “My state of mind during that time was trying to understand how I could leave this relationship.
“It was hard for me,” Jacobs said.
Brown said: “You had invested too much.”
Donahue indicated Jacobs was “going to take care of (Woodburn) for what he did,” Brown said.
Jacobs said that was not true.
“I said I would take care of the situation and talk with an attorney and friends,” Jacobs said.
Woodburn is expected to take the stand again Wednesday along with Donahue. Closing arguments could come as soon as Wednesday.