The time crept by so slowly and painfully that the 23-year-old Columbia University journalism student had decided it was time to end her life.
Over many torturous hours, she had been repeatedly raped, sodomized and forced to perform oral sex, a prosecutor told a jury on Thursday. The accused, Robert A. Williams, 31, had doused the woman’s face and body with boiling water and bleach, forced her to swallow handfuls of pills and to chase them with beer, sealed her mouth with glue, and bound her wrists and legs with shoelaces, cords and duct tape, said the prosecutor, Ann P. Prunty. And now, Ms. Prunty said, he was asking the woman to gouge out her own eyes with a pair of scissors.
And so the woman, sitting on the floor of her studio apartment in Hamilton Heights and holding a pair of scissors between her knees — the blade pointing toward her face — tried to stop the suffering. She lowered her face to the blade, but turned her head at the last moment, trying to stab herself in the neck instead of her eyes.
The scissors slipped from her grasp, the suicide attempt failed, and the woman suffered several more hours of torture, Ms. Prunty said.
The woman survived the nearly 19-hour ordeal, which ended, Ms. Prunty said, when she used a fire started by Mr. Williams to burn the cords that secured her wrists to a futon.
Mr. Williams went on trial Thursday in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, where he faces 71 criminal counts, including attempted murder, rape, arson and assault. If convicted, he could spend the rest of his life in prison.
Mr. Williams, who was homeless at the time of his arrest about a week later at the scene of a burglary in Queens, has a lengthy police record dating to his childhood, the authorities have said.
He was charged in a murder as a juvenile, though the outcome of that case is sealed, a law enforcement official said, and he spent eight years in prison for an attempted-murder conviction in 1996.
The prosecution began presenting its case with Ms. Prunty’s vivid, step-by-step account of the attack, which she said began about 10 p.m. on April 13, 2007, and lasted until 4 p.m. the following afternoon. Mr. Williams’s lawyer, Arnold J. Levine, did not make an opening statement. Outside the courtroom, Mr. Levine declined to talk about his strategy. In hearings before the trial, he seemed to indicate that he would challenge witnesses’ identification of his client.
The victim and several witnesses in the six-story apartment building where the woman lived picked out Mr. Williams from lineups, Ms. Prunty said. She said that DNA evidence also linked him to the crime.
Justice Carol Berkman, who is presiding over the trial, found in October that Mr. Williams was mentally fit for trial. After that decision, Mr. Levine said he was considering a mental illness defense.
As Ms. Prunty delivered her opening statement, Mr. Williams sat slouched in his chair, with his head tilted downward.
On the night of the attack, the victim, a month from graduating with a master’s degree, was at Columbia, putting the final touches on her résumé for a job fair the next day, Ms. Prunty said. When she arrived at her apartment building, she got on the elevator and found Mr. Williams inside, Ms. Prunty said. She rode with him to her floor, and could hear him follow her as she navigated the long L-shaped hallway to her apartment.
As the woman entered her apartment, Ms. Prunty said, Mr. Williams asked her if she knew where a Mrs. Evans lived. The woman stopped to answer.
“Her kind moment of hesitation would cost her,” Ms. Prunty said.
Mr. Williams forced his way into the apartment, Ms. Prunty said, put the woman in a chokehold, and slapped her cellphone from her hand. Mr. Williams slammed the door behind him, and “her Friday the 13th nightmare began,” Ms. Prunty said.
Mr. Williams turned a clock by the woman’s bed to the wall and made her take off her watch so she would not know what time it was, Ms. Prunty said. He raped her repeatedly and cut her hair because “he wanted to see her face, her fear and humiliation.”
He made her sit in her bathtub, and that was the first time he told her to gouge her eyes, Ms. Prunty said. He punished her for refusing by boiling water in a kettle and throwing it on her, the prosecutor said. The water jolted her so much that she broke through the bonds on her wrist, Ms. Prunty said, as the skin on her chest, torso and thighs blistered. (On hearing this detail, one of the jurors shook his head and covered his mouth.)
“Just kill me! Just kill me!” the woman pleaded, Ms. Prunty said.
Later, after her failed attempt to kill herself with the scissors, Mr. Williams threw a heavy object at the back of her head, cracking her skull, Ms. Prunty said.
Mr. Williams was intent on damaging her vision because, Ms. Prunty said, “a blind witness could never identify her attacker.”
Mr. Williams eventually slit the woman’s eyelids and face with a butcher knife, Ms. Prunty said, but she did not lose her vision. He fastened her legs and arms to a futon, and she lost consciousness.
When she awoke, she again pleaded for him to kill her, but heard no response. He was gone.
Mr. Williams “only stopped when he could no longer feel the scourge of control over another human being,” Ms. Prunty said.
The woman smelled smoke, Ms. Prunty said, so she wriggled her legs free and pulled the futon away from the wall. She used the fire to free her arms, Ms. Prunty said, and then ran through the smoke to her door. It took her several attempts to open it because her hands were limp and numb, Ms. Prunty said.
The woman ran through her hallway seeking help, Ms. Prunty said, “an image of the walking, living dead.”