Girl, 8, overcomes fear to testify at abuse trial

April 29, 1994|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Sun Staff Writer

After taking nearly a half-hour to muster courage to take the witness stand, an 8-year-old girl told a Carroll Circuit Court jury yesterday that a 30-year-old Finksburg man sexually abused her last year.

The girl -- the state's key witness in the second-degree rape case against James Scott Edmonson -- almost didn't testify in the first day of the trial.

When she entered the courtroom, she didn't walk past the prosecutor's table.

"I don't want to go up there," she said, sobbing. "I just want to go home."

She threw her arms around Diane L. Jackson, a victim-witness coordinator with the Carroll state's attorney's office. As the girl cried, she pulled at an earring and shook her head, sending her long brown ponytail in motion.

"I just want to go home now," she said.

The girl -- whose name is being withheld to protect her privacy -- was coaxed for nearly 30 minutes by a prosecutor, her therapist and Ms. Jackson before she took the stand. Without the girl's testimony, the case likely would have been dropped, Assistant State's Attorney Kathi Hill said yesterday.

The girl spent nearly an hour on the witness stand describing what happened, often in graphic detail.

"He got on top of me and moved around," the girl said.

While she testified, she avoided looking at the defendant. She often placed her open hand on the side of her face closest to him.

Ms. Hill, in her opening statement to the jury, said Mr. Edmonson had told a child sexual abuse investigator that the girl, then 7, forced herself on him.

"He said, 'I thought she was aroused,' " Ms. Hill told the jury, recalling Mr. Edmonson's conversation with investigator Ruth Ann Arty.

" 'What do you think aroused her, my hair or my eyes?' " Ms. Hill quoted Mr. Edmonson as saying.

Ms. Hill told the jury that those statements were "better than any confession."

Elliot N. Lewis, one of Mr. Edmonson's defense lawyers, told the nTC jury of 10 men and two women that no one "knows exactly what was said" during Ms. Arty's interviews of his client.

"When someone accused of a crime is talking to the police, it's an extremely stressful situation. It's a whole different situation than just talking to someone on the street," the lawyer said in his opening statement.

A Carroll grand jury returned a 14-count indictment in September against Mr. Edmonson that charged him with second-degree rape, attempted second-degree rape, four counts of second-degree sex offense, and two counts each of child abuse, perverted practice, third-degree sex offense and battery.

The charges carry a maximum sentence of 190 years in prison.

According to court records and testimony yesterday, the girl was sexually assaulted at least twice between May and August last year. On one of those occasions, the girl said, Mr. Edmonson attempted to have sexual intercourse with her.

Mr. Lewis questioned the girl's testimony on cross-examination and tried to cast doubt on her recollections.

She gave at least two different answers to questions about when she reported the allegations to her mother.

Earlier, the lawyer told the jury that the girl was abused two years ago and the experience might have clouded her memory.

"Children do have fruitful imaginations," Mr. Lewis said. "They watch TV, go to the movies, and these things leave an indelible mark on young minds."

During a court recess, Mr. Edmonson, standing outside the courthouse with his mother and other family members, said the case was "a crock."

The trial was expected to conclude today in Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr.'s courtroom.

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