Trial date set in sex assault

WAILUKU – An Aug. 12 trial is set in 2nd Circuit Court for a man charged with sexually assaulting a Maui Mall store employee who was dragged into a dressing room and choked before she managed to escape.

During his arraignment Thursday morning, Charles Cowans, 43, pleaded not guilty to charges of kidnapping, two counts of first-degree sexual assault and attempted first-degree assault. He is being held in lieu of $1 million bail at the Maui Community Correctional Center.

Cowans was arrested at about 12:30 p.m. May 31 outside the store shortly after the attack. The 33-year-old victim, who doesn’t know Cowans, testified during a preliminary hearing last week that he had twice entered the store that afternoon, the second time when her boss and customers had left and she was alone.

After dragging the woman into the dressing room and blocking the entrance with a shelf, Cowans ripped off her shorts and held onto her legs when she tried to leave by diving through a 1-foot space between the floor and the bottom of one wall, the woman said. She did manage to escape when she made a second attempt and yelled for help. An off-duty police officer was among those who helped apprehend Cowans.

According to the prosecution, Cowans had been released from the Wailuku jail the day before the attack. Police said that Cowans had gone to the Wailuku Police Station to register as a sex offender the morning of May 31.

Cowans was resentenced last year to a one-year jail term and five years’ probation for violating his probation in a 1991 case.

Originally charged in that case with attempted murder, Cowans had pleaded no contest to a reduced charge of first-degree attempted assault and kidnapping for an attack with a steak knife on a former girlfriend at the Job Corps Center on the Maunaolu campus in Makawao in September 1991, according to court records.

According to a probation report, Cowans was last seen in October 1992 at Holy Family Shelter in Puunene, where he had been staying. A warrant for his arrest was filed in April 1993 after he didn’t contact his probation officer and didn’t complete 200 hours of community service, court records show.

Cowans was arrested on the warrant and extradited to Maui on May 31, 2012, after being released by the San Diego County sheriff’s department, police said.

According to court records, he was found guilty in September 1993 of second-degree robbery including the use of a knife in San Diego County. In October 1998, he pleaded guilty to a separate charge of assault with intent to commit a felony. Sentenced to 17 years and four months in prison, Cowans was paroled after being incarcerated for 14 years, court records show.

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at lfujimoto@