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Defense in rape trial of Englewood hair salon operator rests with no witnesses

Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter

ONLY ON CVP: A lawyer for an Englewood hair products entrepreneur being tried for rape rested his case yesterday without presenting a witness. The defendant, Sisa Butu, also didn’t testify.

Superior Court Judge Patrick J. Roma carefully questioned Butu, 53, telling him the decision “is yours alone.”

“At this point, you have the benefit of knowing the state’s case,” the judge said. “I don’t want to belabor the issue, but do you understand the consequences, the pitfalls?

“Do you need any more time?”

Butu — also known as James McDowell — said he’d considered the prospect thoroughly and wasn’t testifying.

Closing arguments are set for Tuesday.

Butu’s former girlfriend testified last week that she had gone to see her dentist in Jersey City and was planning to visit her father in Irvington when she swung by Butu’s Tryon Avenue home in September 2010.

He’d told her he wasn’t feeling well, said the woman, who now lives in Pennsylvania with her husband.

After going out to lunch, she said, they had some drinks at the house and watched music videos. She said she was preparing to leave because her husband would be expecting her when things got ugly.

Butu got a a .357 Magnum from a cabinet and fired a round into the ceiling, the 49-year-old mother of two told jurors.

“I love you too much,” she said he told her. “If you try to leave, there’s going to be a double homicide.”

He then sexually assaulted her under threat of death in his living room and bedroom before becoming ill after drinking nearly a full bottle of cognac, the woman testified.

Butu was vomiting when she grabbed her clothes, dressed quickly, and ran to a neighbor’s house for help, she said.

“The man there let me in, closed the door and turned off the porch light while I called first the police and then my husband,” she told the 11 men and four women on the jury.

Local media initially reported what came next as a standoff, but an exclusive report in CLIFFVIEW PILOT explained that Butu was passed out as a tactical squad surrounded his house, tried calling him for a few hours and then finally used tear gas to flush him out.

Butu emerged naked and was taken into custody.

Defense attorney Michael Robbins said that his client has had to live with a false accusation for four years and now finally has a chance to clear his name.

Attacking the woman’s credibility, Robbins told jurors that there are “two sides to every story.”

Butu once ran a popular chain of hair braiding salons in Brooklyn but now distributes hair care products under the name SBXtreme “for the multicultural hair care market,” according to company information.

He faces another indictment in Bergen County for assaulting his son in Englewood last November, causing “bodily injury with a deadly weapon.” He has prior arrests for perjury, being a fugitive, and child endangerment.

He faces 15 separate counts in the trial, including seven of aggravated sexual assault, or rape.

STORY / PHOTOS: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter

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