Photo by Brian Giandelone
LAWRENCEVILLE -- A former patient of Cliff Tillery's told jurors Tuesday he charged $85 per hour to have sex with him during therapy sessions for alcoholism and bulimia.
The former counselor's trial opened Tuesday morning, calling into question patient-therapist boundaries while painting Tillery's Norcross office as a hotbed for soul-baring catharsis turned dangerous deceit.
Neither side debates that the consensual sex happened behind the locked door of Tillery's Indian Trial Road office. His defense contends the acts were adulterous and ill-advised -- but not criminal.
Both parties were married with children at the time, and Tillery's wife doubled as his bookkeeper.
Prosecutors argue Tillery preyed upon the psychological wounds of his patient, a Gwinnett preschool teacher, in order to engage in sexual activity more than 20 times in six months, beginning in July 2007, before she stopped the sessions.
"These weren't romantic rendezvous in hotels," said Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Taylor. "This was sex in his business office."
Tillery is charged with two counts of sexual assault by a practitioner of psychotherapy against a patient. The alleged assaults are thought to be isolated incidents.
The accusations have cost Tillery, owner of Bright Horizons Inc., his practice as a licensed counselor guiding drug addicts, alcoholics and sex-compulsivity sufferers toward recovery.
Tillery surrendered his license in the wake of his arrest and the alleged victim's public outcry via broadcast media, ending 20 years in the field, said his attorney, Dylan Wilbanks.
Tillery posted $55,200 bond four days after his July 2008 arrest and remains free.
The Daily Post does not identify alleged victims of sex crimes.
On the witness stand, the 32-year-old wore a black business dress and turquoise turtleneck. She kissed a necklace emblem during prying, cross-examination questions. Her responses were loud and direct, and more than once she criticized Wilbanks' line of questioning.
She denied filing a civil lawsuit against Tillery, or even researching the possibility.
"I don't want any money from him," she said.
They had met by chance at a Catholic church, where she was seeking Alcoholics Anonymous groups, she testified. After an alcohol relapse, she called Tillery for help, and a month into the sessions, his come-ons began, she testified.
"One time he said I was the best looking addict he'd ever seen," she said.
The alleged abuse began with friendly hugs, then a sweep of her hair and a kiss initiated by him, she said. During the first encounter, he pulled away, and she later apologized, she said.
In later sessions, their roles essentially reversed, with Tillery relaxed on the couch expounding on his own rocky childhood, she testified. He charged for every one-hour session except a handful around the holidays, she said.
"I felt powerless to stop it, because I depended on him so much," she testified.
A former therapist advised her to report Tillery to the state licensing board, and few months later she came forward to Gwinnett police.
"I didn't think he deserved to have his license after what he did to me," she testified.
Wilbanks juxtaposed her testimony with a blog she'd kept, in which she admitted to calling Tillery's wife a "vile lush" along with more stinging vulgarities. She denied that a post about a "boyfriend" in September 2007 was referring to Tillery. She dismissed the blog as "silly" and full of "AA humor."
In early 2008, she demanded a reimbursement of $1,000 from Tillery, which he paid while asking she keep the affair under wraps, she testified.
The trial is expected to conclude this week.