The four young women were aspiring pharmacists on the cusp of launching careers at Giant. They had just moved to a Reston apartment together and spent long hours studying to pass the pharmacy boards.

But those dreams were interrupted in summer 1995, when one of the women awoke to a gloved hand clasped over her mouth in the dead of the night, she testified Tuesday. A masked man leaned over her, holding the barrel of a gun to her head.

“Shut the f--- up,” she testified the man told her.

So began her narrative of a sexual assault so harrowing one member of a Fairfax County jury put his hand across his mouth for much of it, another blinked back tears, and several others appeared stricken.

“There are no words to describe how you feel in that situation,” the woman testified. “You were just trying to survive. It was the most horrific hours of my life.”

The testimony came during the opening day of the trial of Jude Lovchik, 50, who is accused of holding all four women hostage in their apartment, forcing them to perform sex acts on one another and then forcing himself on them in vile fashion.

Lovchik faces up to life in prison if convicted of the most serious of 17 counts of abduction, sodomy and other charges he is facing. He has pleaded not guilty to all the charges and Fairfax County Public Defender Dawn Butorac told the jury that she plans to aggressively attack several parts of the prosecution’s case, calling it a “shoddy, taking-shortcuts investigation.”

The Reston case had long been cold and might have gone unsolved but for a surprising tip. Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Jessica Greis-Edwardson said in her opening statement that Lovchik’s ex-wife reported to Arlington County police in 2016 that Lovchik had “told her about something very bad he had done in the early ’90s.”

Arlington County police notified the cold-case unit in Fairfax, sparking an investigation that eventually led to Lovchik’s arrest the following year, Greis-Edwardson told the jury. Greis-Edwardson said a DNA swab from Lovchik produced a match with biological material found in the mouth of one of the victims.

“They are young, bursting with dreams,” Greis-Edwardson said of the women before the assaults. “Dreams they control.”

Each of the four women took the witness stand Tuesday, more than 23 years after the alleged attack. It occurred the same year O.J. Simpson was acquitted on charges he killed his former wife and a bomb rocked a federal building in Oklahoma City, but the women recalled the horrific assault in graphic and disturbing detail. Some cried and others shook with anger as they testified.

Greis-Edwardson told the jury that the attacker somehow scaled onto the second-floor balcony of their garden-style apartment in the early hours of June 6, 1995, and slipped through a living room window.

The first woman who testified said she was the first to wake. The Washington Post generally does not name victims of sexual assault. The woman, now 47, said at first she was disoriented: “I thought I was dreaming.”

The first woman testified that the attacker eventually woke all of the women, forced them to give him money and then herded them into one of the bedrooms and made them lie face down on a bed.

The attacker then blindfolded the women using their own scarfs and bandannas, the first woman said. She testified that he told one of the roommates who was whimpering that she needed to be quiet if she wanted her friends to live.

“Take it off — everything,” she recalled him barking.

One by one, the women were made to strip and returned to the bed, the first woman testified. A Fleetwood Mac CD the roommates put on before going to bed played throughout the attack that followed.

The first woman could no longer see because of the blindfold but said she heard whimpering and crying.

“At some point I said under my breath, ‘You sick, sick man,’ ” the first woman testified.

“What did you say?” he replied.

“I said, ‘You’re mean,’ ” the first woman testified.

The intruder then forced the woman who was testifying to perform sex acts on her roommate, she testified.

Each of the roommates, in turn, was then forced to perform a sexual act on the man, while he filmed at least one of them with a camcorder.

Afterward, the man worked meticulously to cover his tracks. He asked one victim to drink Ga­tor­ade to remove any trace of evidence from her mouth, she testified. He vacuumed the bedroom where the assault occurred. He went through one of the women’s address books to get names and phone numbers of family and friends he said he would kill if they ever reported him to police, the first woman testified.

He told the women he was going to the kitchen because he was hungry, the first woman testified. The women remained on the bed for a long time, before realizing the attacker had fled.

They made their way to one roommate’s aunt’s house in Great Falls, from where they called police, the first woman testified.

In her opening statement, Butorac slammed the investigation that ensnared Lovchik. She said the detectives and forensic scientists were sloppy in handling evidence and could not recall its chain of custody.

She said that a key forensic scientist was biased in favor of police and that investigators ignored problems with the DNA test that linked Lovchik to evidence from the crime scene.

Finally, she said that Lovchik’s ex-wife had motivation to lie to police about his carrying out sexual assaults in the ’90s: He had just won sole custody of their young daughter after a contentious divorce.

“It’s in the context of this relationship that Ms. Lovchik creates this ridiculous story,” Butorac told the jury.

Lovchik has been charged only in this case, but authorities have been investigating whether he might be responsible for a string of sexual assaults in Fairfax and Prince William counties in the early and mid-1990s. The perpetrator came to be known as the “Centreville Rapist.”

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