Girl testifies that man’s back rubs turned into sexual assaults

Staff photo / Ed Runyan Robert J. Tullio, 56, on Wednesday in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court during his rape trial. Prosecutors rested their case after one full day of testimony Wednesday. Tullio might take the stand today.

YOUNGSTOWN — A 15-year-old girl’s decision two years ago to tell her mother a man committed sex offenses against her not only resulted in an arrest on rape and other charges, but it encouraged two other victims to come forward, according to a prosecutor.

Robert J. Tullio, 56, is on trial in the courtroom of Judge Anthony D’Apolito of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court.

Tullio’s arrest caused two sisters who did not know the victim to call each other, Pat Kiraly, assistant county prosecutor, told jurors Wednesday morning during opening statements in Tullio’s trial. He is charged with six counts of rape and 10 counts of gross sexual imposition involving three females. All three testified Wednesday.

“It was during that phone call that they both found the courage to finally admit to each other that they knew (the younger girl’s allegations) were true because they too were” sexually assaulted by Tullio more than 25 years earlier, Kiraly said.

The sisters did not know the other victim, but they “contacted the authorities to assist them, not knowing that their stories were even going to lead to additional charges,” Kiraly said. “They weren’t even looking for justice for themselves.

“Instead, they just wanted (the other victim) to know that the fear she endured for four years, they had been there. They wanted her to know she was not alone in this,” Kiraly said.

The two sisters “lived in fear,” but they “came forward and told their stories about how they too survived being sexually assaulted by Robert Tullio,” Kiraly said.

Tullio is accused of raping two of the females. One of the rape counts carries a possible life sentence if he is convicted. Tullio is also alleged to have groped all three females. The legal term for the offenses is gross sexual imposition.

Tullio is accused of raping one of the sisters in the 1990s and also groping her. He also is accused of groping the other sister in the 1990s, according to Tullio’s indictment. Tullio has been in the Mahoning County jail since Oct. 6, 2022, according to jail records. The crimes are alleged to have occurred in Mahoning County.

Mark Lavelle, Tullio’s attorney, told jurors in opening statements that Tullio is a Youngstown native who served in the military 23 years and was deployed to combat zones three times in Afghanistan and Iraq. During that time, he got married on a trip home to Ohio. Because of the marriage, he knew two young girls.

Later, Tullio was in a relationship with another woman, and that led Tullio to know another young girl. She alleged in the spring of 2022 that Tullio had molested her, Lavelle said.

That’s when the two sisters learned of the charges against Tullio “and decided that they would need to do whatever they needed to do in order to support (the other alleged victim) in this situation,” the defense attorney said. “It was then, in 2022, 20 years after the fact, that they each disclosed one to the other that ‘Oh yea, he did it to me too,'” Lavelle said.

“Up until that time, these two sisters who were raised together … never once whispered one to the other that these events were going on,” Lavelle said.

The most recent victim alleged she was sexually assaulted more than 100 times, but “there was not ever a hint disclosed of fear” “to a counselor, not to a school, not to a friend that these events occurred until 2022 when she got angry with Robert,” Lavelle said.

He said the two sisters apparently never discussed such allegations with each other before 2022,”despite the fact that they slept in a bedroom with their heads closer than these two counsel tables,” Lavelle said.

One of the sisters said Tullio’s sexual assaults against her were “four to five times a week, yet never discovered,” Lavelle said.

The girl who alleged being sexually assaulted until 2022 testified Wednesday morning. The girl said Tullio had a habit of scratching or rubbing her back, but at times he would get close to touching private areas. It also was not uncommon for him to talk about her body. She was about 11 years old.

When she was about 10, while he was scratching her back, he put his hands in her pants and touched her “private areas,” she said. She described the touching getting worse over time. When she was 15, she confronted him, the girl said.

“It was along the lines of ‘this is wrong and it’s stopping now,'” she said. She added Tullio said, “You never acted like you didn’t want it.” That is the day she told her mother, who filed a police report.

The two sisters testified in the afternoon. When that was finished, the prosecution rested its case. The defense can put on witnesses this morning. Tullio is expected to take the stand.

Have an interesting story? Email Ed Runyan at erunyan@vindy.com


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