Stepdaughter, wife testify in surgeon assault trial
HOUSTON (KTRK) -- The luxurious life of former hand surgeon Dr. Michael Brown was back under the microscope Thursday. Prosecutors claim Dr. Brown assaulted his fourth wife in front of the couple's children. But the defense wants the jury to know that the Brown marriage was anything but picture perfect.
Dr. Brown's 13-year-old stepdaughter was the first witness Thursday. She testified that on the day of the alleged assault, she woke up to her mother's screams and saw Dr. Brown chasing Rachel Brown, then grab her and attack her.
This was the first time since the alleged attack in August 2010 that the girl has seen her stepfather in person. In a very soft-spoken voice, the girl, who was 11 at the time, testified that she and her two younger siblings were sleeping in her mother's bed when she says she woke up to her mother screaming and yelling for help. She said she then heard things breaking in the living room.
The girl, who took several side-eye glances at her stepfather throughout her testimony, said she came out of the bedroom and saw Dr. Brown chasing Rachel Brown around the room, then the girl said he attacked her mother. At one point during her testimony, the girl said she saw Dr. Brown throw what she thought was a champagne glass at her mom.
Prosecutor: What did you see?
Girl: I saw my mom trying to step out of the door.
Prosecutor: And what door are we talking about?
Girl: The side door that is in our kitchen.
Prosecutor: And where does that door take you?
Girl: To the carport.
Prosecutor: And you said she was trying to step out. What did you see?
Girl: I saw Michael grab her arm and try to pull her back.
The 13-year-old, who also demonstrated the alleged attack for the jury, said one of the nannies grabbed Dr. Brown by the waist and pulled him down.
The family's bodyguard was called back to the stand after testifying Wednesday.
Prosecutors hope the stepdaughter's testimony will bolster their case that the former hand surgeon assaulted his wife. But defense attorney Dick DeGuerin is trying to paint a different picture of Rachel Brown.
Rachel Brown was called back to the stand Thursday. Without the jury in the room, Rachel Brown admitted to having a romantic relationship with former Astros player Jeff Bagwell after the alleged assault, even traveling with him to San Diego.
Rachel: Yes, I did.
DeGuerin: Then you took a private jet from San Diego to Cabo with him, correct?
DeGuerin. And more recently, in fact this past weekend, you were with him in Aspen, weren't you?
DeGuerin also sparred with Houston socialite Debbie Festari, owner of the upscale Festari For Men clothing store near the Galleria. Earlier this week, DeGuerin called Festari to ask her about Rachel Brown's feelings toward the trial.
DeGuerin: You were lying to me?
Festari: No, Mr. DeGuerin, if you'd let me explain, I can explain the whole situation to you. If you would stop interrupting me and let me explain, I'd be happy to tell you what happened.
Festari testified that Rachel Brown was upset about the trial this week, but says her memories, at best, were cloudy because of a long ladies lunch.
"I was not honest with Mr. DeGuerin when he called me because I was taken aback by the fact that he did call me and it was six in the evening, and I had some to drink all day," Festari testified.
She says she was out celebrating with girlfriends when DeGuerin called her.
Festari admitted that the trial is taking a toll on Rachel Brown. But despite repeated questioning, Festari maintained that Rachel never wanted to drop the charges against her husband.
Defense attorneys say the incident that morning was brought on by Rachel Brown's panic attacks. Their first witness in the case was her psychiatrist who described to the jury what panic attacks feels like.
"It's palpitations, increased heart rate, sweating, dizzy, light-headed, feeling like you might die, or having a heart attack," said psychiatrist Robbie Wright.
The defense also called to the stand a security guard for Dr. Brown.
The testimony from Rachel Brown about her relationship with Jeff Bagwell has not been heard by the jury yet and it's unclear if it will be admitted.
Yesterday, Rachel Brown showed the jury how she says she was attacked by her husband. The jury also heard Rachel Brown's call to 911 the day of the alleged assault as well as several phone calls between the two recorded by Rachel Brown. She says Dr. Brown was drunk and with another woman. The phone conversation had lots of expletives as she confronted him about the alleged affair.
Rachel Brown said the couple is separated and are seeking a divorce.
Dr. Brown, 54, and his attorneys claim Rachel Brown has financial motives for bringing charges.
"You would wonder why she needs a criminal conviction. What good would it do her?" said KTRK Legal analyst Joel Androphy. "In the criminal setting, nothing. In the family court setting, it gives her a major leg up. It gives her more money in any property settlement."
The trial is expected to continue into next week.
Dr. Brown has a previous conviction for assaulting another wife, and that means the jury will hear about that relationship as well. He pleaded no contest to the assault which happened in 2002. That was an aggravated assault for beating his then-pregnant third wife, Darlina Brown, with a bed post. He was sentenced to 10 years supervised probation and fined $1,500. But if convicted on these new assault charges, Brown's past could land him in prison. It means prosecutors have a special circumstance on their hands that makes the misdemeanor assault a felony.
The 54-year-old doctor is also not practicing medicine anymore, but not because he retired voluntarily. Brown was stripped of his medical license in 2006 over cocaine use.
If convicted, Brown could face up to 10 years in prison.
Stay with Eyewitness News and abc13.com for the latest on this story.
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