WASHINGTON • With her voice cracking but her composure intact, an emotional Dr Christine Blasey Ford made her first appearance in public on Thursday, telling a rapt Senate panel about the terror she felt on a summer day more than 30 years ago, when, she said, a drunken Brett Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed, tried to rip her clothes off and clapped his hand over her mouth to muffle her cries for help.
"I believed he was going to rape me," she said. "It was hard for me to breathe and I believed that Brett was going to accidentally kill me."
The hearing riveted the nation, as the fate of Judge Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump's nominee to the Supreme Court, hung in the balance. TV viewers across America were tuned in. As Dr Ford testified, Republican senators sat in mute witness, forgoing questioning and giving over their time to an outside lawyer Rachel Mitchell.
Democrats applauded Dr Ford's courage. When one asked about her strongest memory of the assault, she said it was of Mr Kavanaugh and his friend laughing as they piled on top of her. "The uproarious laughter between the two and having fun at my expense," she said.
It was an extraordinary public appearance by a woman who never intended to become a public figure. Dr Ford, a research psychologist at Stanford, also swatted away any notion that she was mistaking someone else for the young Kavanaugh.
One Democratic senator asked her as she testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee: "Dr Ford, with what degree of certainty do you believe Judge Kavanaugh assaulted you?" She said unequivocally: "One hundred per cent."
For Judge Kavanaugh, and the nation, the stakes could not be higher: If confirmed, the judge would replace the court's swing vote with a reliable conservative, shaping US jurisprudence and pushing it towards the right for decades to come.
The facts of Dr Ford's story are already well known, but hearing her detail them, with clarity and sometimes confessing that she did not remember specifics, was compelling.
STRUGGLED WITH TERRIBLE CHOICE
I struggled with a terrible choice: Do I share the facts with the Senate and put myself and my family in the public spotlight? Or do I preserve our privacy and allow the Senate to make its decision without knowing the full truth of his past behaviours?
DR CHRISTINE BLASEY FORD
THEY WERE LAUGHING, HAVING FUN
Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter - the uproarious laughter - between the two (Brett Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge), and their having fun at my expense.
She told senators that the experience "dramatically altered my life for a long time", and during her college years she struggled academically because of it.
Dr Ford used her opening statement to recount how she met Mr Kavanaugh, when their social circles at their elite private schools intersected during her freshman or sophomore year, when she was 14 or 15. She said she had been friendly with a classmate of Mr Kavanaugh, who introduced them. "This is how I met Brett Kavanaugh, the boy who sexually assaulted me."
One evening in the summer of 1982, after a day of diving at a country club, she attended a "spur of the moment" gathering at a nearby house, she said. It was clear that Mr Kavanaugh and his friend, Mr Mark Judge, had been drinking, and she just had one beer. When she went upstairs to use the bathroom, she said, she was pushed from behind into a bedroom.
"Brett and Mark came into the bedroom and locked the door behind them," she said. "There was music playing in the bedroom. It was turned up louder by either Brett or Mark once we were in the room. I was pushed on the bed and Brett got on top of me and he began running his hands over my body and grinding into me. I yelled, hoping that someone downstairs might hear me and I tried to get away from him, but his weight was heavy," said Dr Ford.
She said Mr Kavanaugh had a hard time removing her clothes as she was wearing a one-piece swim suit underneath. Eventually, after Mr Judge jumped on top of them and they all tumbled off the bed, she was able to escape, she said.
"I ran inside the bathroom and locked the door," she said. "I waited until I heard Brett and Mark leave the bedroom laughing and loudly walk down the narrow stairway. I waited and when I did not hear them come back up the stairs, I left the bathroom, went down the same stairwell through the living room and left the house."
She said: "I remember being on the street and feeling an enormous sense of relief that I escaped that house and that Brett and Mark were not coming outside after me."