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'I thought he was my friend': Accused serial rapist's trial hears from first of 7 alleged victims

Richard Mantha, 59, is accused of drugging and raping seven women. Mantha's trial got underway Friday after a judge denied his request to have separate trials for each complainant. (Richard Mantha/Facebook - image credit)
Richard Mantha, 59, is accused of drugging and raping seven women. Mantha's trial got underway Friday after a judge denied his request to have separate trials for each complainant. (Richard Mantha/Facebook - image credit)

A woman who spent years working in Calgary's sex trade to support a drug addiction told a judge that she believed Richard Mantha wanted to help her get away from the lifestyle by offering manual labour on his rural property.

She testified Friday that instead, she was sexually assaulted and attacked by the man she once considered a friend.

The woman, whom CBC News has previously identified as Avery, was the Crown's first witness at Mantha's trial. As Avery testified, by her side was a dog named Cali, provided by the Calgary Police Service's victim assistance unit.

Mantha, known at the time by Avery as Poncho, is charged with 20 offences, including sexual assault with a weapon, kidnapping and administering noxious substances.

He is accused of targeting women in Calgary's sex trade, drugging and sexually assaulting them.

His trial began Friday, after Justice Judith Shriar declined to grant Mantha's application to have a separate trial for each accuser — seven in total.

All of the alleged victims' identities are protected by a publication ban.

A promise of work

Avery testified that in April 2022, she was struggling with addiction and wanted to get sober.

One day, she told the court, Mantha picked her up in a red car.

"We had discussed how I could help him with some of my talents as a tradesperson; I had construction experience, framing experience," Avery told the court.

"On the drive out there, we talked about how I was trying to step back from my line of work that I had found myself in as an addict."

Avery testified that once she arrived on Mantha's rural property near Chestermere, she was excited at the prospect of work.

'I fought back'

But soon after arriving, Avery went inside Mantha's trailer that was inside a Quonset to plug in her phone.

That's where she says Mantha began pulling her pants down and began attacking her when she resisted.

"I was being strangled. I had him on top of me, holding my mouth, holding my neck, holding my face down," Avery told prosecutor Dominique Mathurin.

"I fought back."

Avery says she managed to get out of the trailer and then out of the Quonset and hit the ground running.

She testified she could hear Mantha laughing behind her.

Running through farmers' fields toward the highway, Avery said she felt like she was being "sucked to the ground."

Avery says she collapsed once she reached the highway and woke up again in hospital.

The trial was set for four weeks but began Friday instead of Monday.

Five other alleged victims are expected to testify. One of the women Mantha is accused of sexually assaulting died in the last couple of months.

Defence lawyer Kim Arial applied to have all of the alleged victims separated into seven different trials.

On Friday morning, Shriar ruled the defence had not shown justice would be better served with seven trials.