Volume 103, Number 23 - February 8, 2007
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Child abuse trial begins
On Feb. 6, opening statements in The State of Wyoming v. Robert Griffin were made in the Sublette County District Court in front of a jury and Judge Norman Young. Griffin is charged with second degree sexual abuse of a child.
Chief Deputy County Attorney Mike Crosson told the jury that testimony from the alleged victim’s teacher, school nurse, county law enforcement and child psychologists would prove Griffin was guilty of illicitly touching the elementary school-aged girl. He said the girl’s teachers documented her physical and psychological decline, noting the child began to frequently wet her pants and complain of an upset stomach and seemed to lose certain motor skills, like the ability to fasten her own pants.
Crosson also said the lack of conclusive physical evidence of abuse and inconsistencies in the child’s account of the alleged crime in no way disproved the charges. Rather, a certain degree of recanting and confusion about the chronology of events was normal for a child her age, who had experienced such an ordeal.
Griffin’s defense attorney, Vaughn Neubauer, a Casper-based lawyer, argued the allegations were part of a family’s vengeful campaign to punish Griffin for becoming involved with a woman, Lisa Siems, of whom it disapproved. The family did not want Griffin to move in with or marry Siems because it wanted to continue to receive the stipend Griffin received as a member of a Native American tribe, and to employ him in the family’s house moving business, Neubauer suggested. He also said the family did not seek medical or psychological help for the girl until after the accusations against Griffin were leveled.
“Not until the object of this family’s wrath was accused of this crime” was the child brought to any sort of mental health specialist, Neubauer contended.
Neubauer asserted the lack of physical evidence of abuse discredited the allegations. Dr. Judith Boyle, a board certified pediatrician, examined the child in December 2005 and found no obvious signs of sexual trauma. The girl’s initial reluctance to accuse Griffin to law enforcement officials and inconsistencies in her description of events, including an incident in which she said she saw Griffin’s brother, Earl, molest her sister at a time when Earl was in North Dakota, invalidated the allegations, Neubauer argued.
Sue Wadsworth, a registered nurse at the alleged victim’s school, testified for the prosecution that in December of 2005 and January of 2006, the child wet her pants five times and complained frequently of stomach aches. Wadsworth also said the girl, whom she had been acquainted with for over a year, became very needy of attention during that period. On her way to her special education class, she would often come to the Wadsworth office for a hug.
Brooke Dauwen, the alleged victim’s special education teacher, said she also noticed incidents of incontinence and a regression of the child’s mental and physical capacities. Dauwen testified the formerly attentive child grew distracted in the fall of 2005, and had trouble performing simple activities like fastening her own pants.
Leah Stauffer, a former school bus driver and cafeteria worker, said she was also alarmed by the “glazed look” in the child’s eyes as well as a “certain discomfort on her part in the genital area.” Stauffer testified the girl would often pull her pants away from her crotch and cross her legs when she walked.
Gale Holtby, a licensed counselor and the director of a child advocacy group, the Hirschfield Center for Children, began her testimony on Tuesday. Holtby interviewed the child after the allegations were made. Deputy Robert Lang may have provided the most critically important testimony on Tuesday. Lang was the first law enforcement officer to interview the child. He testified she was “very shy, very timid,” and was not very responsive to his questions.
When Crosson asked why Lang turned the case over to the investigations department, he said he believed the child had been molested, which was a felony. Judge Young struck those statements from the record, but after the jury had left the room, he expressed his concerns that Lang had vouched for the credibility of the alleged victim, and his testimony could unduly influence the jury. Young offered to explain to the jury why Lang’s statement was stricken, but Neubauer was not mollified.
“How do you cure something like that,” the defense attorney asked. Neubauer later asked Judge Young to declare the case a mistrial. “I don’t believe further instructions for the jury will cure this,” he said. The defense’s mistrial motion hearing was scheduled for 8 a.m. on Wednesday.
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