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Court grants defense motion to suppress child’s testimony of sexual abuse

Chief Justice Michael Kruse has granted a suppress statement motion filed by Sharron Rancourt, attorney for a 93-year-old great grandfather facing sexually related charges involving his four-year-old great-granddaughter. Samoa News is withholding the name of the defendant to protect the identity of the victim in this matter.The great-grandfather, who’s out on a surety bond of $15,000 is facing felony charges of child molestation, sodomy, deviate sexual assault, sexual abuse first degree and endangering the welfare of a child. Prosecuting this case is Deputy Attorney General Mitzie Jessop. Rancourt asked the court for a pre-trial taint hearing determining the competency of a child witness and whether certain inculpatory statements (video recorded) attributed to her were reliable or simply the product of interviewing techniques. A hearing was held to determine whether the child witness is competent to make statements reflective of personal knowledge.FINDINGSUpon reviewing the video recoded interview the court found the complaining witness to be a very young child of tender years who was neither articulate nor assertive. “Consequently, the child was very much non-responsive to the very narrow range of questions fielded repeatedly to her, and we are satisfied that her inability to respond has a lot to do with her maturity level comparable to her very young age.”The interview technique employed by the two adults involved, whom we gather from the viewing, were a police officer and the child’s father, who was essentially asking the child repeatedly whether grandpa had touched her and where grandpa had touched her,” says the court order.These questions rather quickly segued to the defendant after focusing the child to a traumatic event of her being injured while playing on the grave, the child’s agreement that an injury had occurred to her private parts which was elicited after repeated (and leading) questioning.“The video shows that the child’s isolated responses — that can be constructed as implicating the defendant — can hardly be said to have been the product of spontaneous recall.“Rather, in our view of the totality of the circumstances, the child’s responses were more the result of incessant questioning by the officer and her father, which we have previously mentioned focused principally on whether and where grandpa had touched her” says the order.The court found that throughout most of the interview the child was unresponsive to the questions, whereby the examining adults (police officer and the father) would ask the same questions repeatedly, even over instances where the child was clearly reacting negatively by shaking her head in a fashion which could also be construed as exculpatory.In addition the court found that the atmosphere and tone of the questioning was unmistakably coercive to the child, she was close to tears, if not crying at one point during the interview.“Because the child was mostly unresponsive, the officer managed to very clearly impress upon the visibility reluctant child that she could go home only if she would show where grandpa had touched her, while at another point in the interview, her father verbalized his increasing anger with her, quite clearly due to her continuing reticence.“Moreover, her father quite clearly articulated at another time that he would not — sasa —(administer corporal punishment) her. “These veiled warnings, coupled with the drawn out interview process all added up to a threatening and intimidating environment to the child.”The court found that under the circumstances, the child is neither competent nor reliable as a witness and therefore granted the defense motion to suppress any testimony by the child. Court filings state that on Feb. 28, 2012 police received a call from LBJ hospital pertaining to a suspected sexual assault on a four-year-old, who was bleeding from her private parts.According to court documents, the victim was seen by various doctors, and Dr. Aguilera is quoted in the court affidavit as saying he was told that the victim was playing and that she had fallen on a tombstone.However, Dr. Aguilera states that most likely this was not produced by a fall, but was more compatible with sexual assault; and that “the perpetrator used something small like a finger or a stick.”The four year old victim told police that her great-grandfather hurt her when he allegedly touched her, while the defendant denied touching his great-granddaughter inappropriately when detectives questioned him, according to the documents.