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Sex assault trial gets underway in Nevada County courtroom

By Liz Kellar | Staff Writer

The issue of consent — and whether a BDSM contract was enforced under duress — was the crux of the arguments of both prosecution and defense as the sexual assault trial of a 62-year-old man began Wednesday in Nevada County Superior Court.

Wesley Carl Panighetti is facing felony charges of sodomy by use of force, forcible oral copulation, criminal threats, first-degree burglary and dissuading a witness, as well as one misdemeanor count of battery, Nevada County Superior Court records state.

Panighetti has pleaded not guilty.

Deputy District Attorney Helenaz Moteabbed Hill told the jury Panighetti and the victim had an on-again, off-again relationship riddled with abuse for 20 years.

“This is a case about manipulation,” Hill said, adding that Panighetti had taken advantage of the victim’s naïveté and vulnerability and got what he wanted through menace and fear. His victim, Hill said, finally stood up for herself and put an end to the terror.

According to Hill, a BDSM relationship — bondage, domination, sadomasochism — can exist with the consent of both parties, but that requires that both are playing “freely and voluntarily” on the same field. That was not the case between Panighetti and the victim, whose name was not used during the trial, she said.

“He wants to claim consent existed through a legally valid contract,” Hill said. “She naively believed contact was binding simply because a notary signed off on it.”

While Hill detailed some of the abuse sustained in years past — which led to several arrests and a prior prison sentence — Hill said the charged offenses all relate to three incidents that took place in May and June 2020, in which Panighetti is alleged to have sexually assaulted the victim, strangled her multiple times and threatened to kill her.

The relationship was consensual and on occasion had been initiated or reinstated by the victim, said Panighetti’s attorney, Paul Comiskey. Comiskey cited the gaps in their involvement and the fact that the victim knew contact with Panighetti after his release from prison violated his parole terms.

According to Comiskey, the victim had told Panighetti their contract was still valid, even after speaking to an attorney, and that implied her consent to the contract. And if that didn’t constitute consent on her part, he argued, Panighetti had a “good faith belief” there was consent to engage in a BDSM relationship.

“Keep an open mind,” he urged the jury.

The trial will resume today. Panighetti remained in custody Wednesday on a $750,000 bond.

Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at lizk@theunion.com.

Wesley Panighetti

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