Sunday, December 21, 2014

Child sex abuse trial boils down to DNA, dream claims

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Staff Writer | 3/6/2013

Can DNA be transferred through a dream?

Prosecutor Jim McCabria posed that question to the jury during his closing arguments Wednesday afternoon on the sixth day of the Eric Scrutchfield trial.

Can DNA be transferred through a dream?

Prosecutor Jim McCabria posed that question to the jury during his closing arguments Wednesday afternoon on the sixth day of the Eric Scrutchfield trial.

The former Franklin County employee was arrested in late May 2011 on suspicion of sexually assaulting a then-4-year-old girl at his wife’s in-home day care business in Ottawa.

McCabria, the assistant Douglas County attorney, was referring in his closing arguments to testimony earlier in the trial that the girl had first reported that the alleged sexual assault was a dream, before later recanting her story and saying the abuse was real. The prosecutor said DNA found on a pair of the girl’s underwear that matched Scrutchfield’s DNA profile didn’t get there via a dream.

Scrutchfield faces three felony charges in connection with the reported assault, which was said to have occurred sometime between March and May 2011 at Yvonne Scrutchfield Day Care Home, 607 N. Cedar St. The business was closed in late May 2011 by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment because of the allegations.

The sexual assault trial was set to march into its seventh day today in Franklin County District Court. The jury deliberated for 4 1/2 hours Wednesday before court recessed 7:30 p.m. The jury was due to resume deliberations at 9 a.m. today. Before beginning deliberations Wednesday, District Judge Eric W. Godderz granted the prosecution’s motion to add a new charge — aggravated indecent liberties with a child — as an alternative to the rape charge.

The Douglas County Attorney’s Office is handling the case because of Scrutchfield’s previous employment with the county, where he worked as a computer support specialist. The prosecutor pointed out the only male DNA profile that Kansas Bureau of Investigation forensic scientists were able to identify in one of three pairs of underwear, collected by police detectives in the case, was that of Scrutchfield’s.

McCabria reminded the jury that defense attorney John A. Boyd’s expert DNA witness, senior forensics scientist Stephanie Beine with Genetic Technologies in St. Louis, Mo., also ran tests on the same stains on that pair of underwear, and she was able to obtain a DNA profile that matched Scrutchfield’s DNA, he said.

McCabria told jurors the two stains on that pair of underwear, which matched Scrutchfield’s DNA, would be in areas consistent with the victim’s report to Ottawa police detectives May 26, 2011, and again during the trial that “Mr. Eric” had pulled her underwear aside and “licked my front” and put his finger inside her front.

She also told detectives that Scrutchfield, known as Mr. Eric to the children at the day care, had showed her “his big front.”  

Boyd said the reason forensics scientists only could produce a DNA profile that matched Scrutchfield’s DNA is that police detectives only provided the KBI forensics lab with known DNA profile samples of Scrutchfield and the victim’s younger brother.

The defense attorney reminded jurors that Beine, his DNA expert, testified Wednesday morning that her tests showed up to 17 male DNA profiles were present in the three pairs of underwear the police had collected.

“Of course, the only profile they are going to find is Eric Scrutchfield’s, because his profile [and that of the girl’s younger brother] were the only known profiles the detectives provided,” Boyd said.

McCabria countered that it would have been difficult to obtain identifications from the other profiles that Genetic Technologies’ more sensitive tests detected because they were only partial profiles.

He reminded jurors KBI forensics scientist Larry Antle testified Tuesday that the 1-by-1.5 centimeter cutting that contained the complete DNA profile that matched Scrutchfield’s DNA contained 6,400 cells in that minute cutting. The prosecutor repeated that Antle had testified that quantity and quality of DNA was most likely the result of direct fluid contact with the material — not through a dry cell transfer of DNA.

Scrutchfield took the stand Wednesday morning and testified about an incident in which he had talked with the girl early one morning in the day care’s nap room where the alleged assault was to have occurred. He testified about waking the girl because she was having a bad dream — right after he had awakened one of his four sons in the adjoining bedroom. Scrutchfield, as well as previous witnesses during the trial, had reported the girl had a habit of sucking on her fingers and of masturbating.

Scrutchfield said he rubbed the girl’s back when she asked him to after the bad dream, and then he said he crouched down beside the girl’s cot in a baseball catcher’s stance and asked her why she sucked on her fingers. He told her sucking on her fingers could prevent her teeth from growing in properly. He said when she didn’t understand what he meant by teeth not growing correctly, he placed her two fingers on his teeth to show her what he meant by how teeth should look.  

McCabria said Scrutchfield’s story differed from what he had told Ottawa police officer AJ Schmidt toward the end of a five-hour interrogation that started about 8 p.m. May 26, 2011, and finished about 1 a.m. May 27, 2011. About three hours into the interview, now-retired Det. Rick Geist informed Scrutchfield he was being arrested on suspicion of rape, aggravated criminal sodomy and lewd and lascivious behavior.

Before giving the jury their instructions, Judge Godderz agreed to amend the first count of rape to allow for the option of aggravated indecent liberties with a child.

McCabria told jurors that if they were not sure beyond a reasonable doubt that Scrutchfield had digitally penetrated the girl’s vagina, but they were certain the defendant had touched her vagina in a sexual way, the jury could find Scrutchfield guilty of aggravated indecent liberties with a child.

The prosecutor also told jurors he thought it was unlikely Scrutchfield would enter a room of sleeping children, crouch down and have a conversation with the child about her teeth and her masturbation problem in that setting.     

Boyd countered that he also found it highly unlikely that Scrutchfield would go into the nap room — after waking his son up in the next room and with his wife asleep on the couch 20 feet away — and perform oral sex on the girl in a room with other sleeping children who were not more than a couple of feet apart.

McCabria also pointed out that Scrutchfield told Schmidt about sticking the girls’ fingers in his mouth some four hours into the five-hour interrogation — after the prosecutor said the defendant had the opportunity to think up a plausible explanation.

Boyd said Ottawa police detectives had tunnel vision from the start and presumed Scrutchfield was guilty. The defense attorney reminded the jury the police did not follow up on Scrutchfield’s report that the girl had witnessed oral sex in a pornographic movie when she walked in on her teenage uncle. The police did not follow up on the girl’s initial report that it had been a dream, Boyd said, nor had police interviewed any of the other parents or children who were sleeping in the room to see if any of them had awakened and witnessed anything.

“This is a child rape case,” Boyd said. “A man’s life could be ruined, yet the police did not investigate any of these other leads.”

Robert Barnett, a child psychologist and expert witness for the defense, said he watched the police detectives’ interview with the girl and found it to be troubling in that they used anatomically correct dolls, though the use of those dolls is frowned upon in most periodical reviews in his profession because no studies have been done to show the dolls aid the investigation and in some ways can hinder them. Barnett said he also found some of the interview troubling because he thought a couple of the questions were leading in nature and suggested what the girl’s response should be.

McCabria countered that the interrogation protocol, Finding Words, that detectives used to interview the girl followed protocols that are accepted in Kansas and 47 other states.

During his testimony, Scrutchfield said he voluntarily agreed to be interviewed by police because “I have nothing to hide.”

When asked by Boyd if he was guilty of the charges, Scrutchfield replied in a resolute tone: “No.”

Boyd also reminded jurors the girl’s own mother had reasonable doubt that the assault had occurred because she took the child back to the day care the morning she had told her mother about the incident.

“No parent in the world would take their child back to a day care if they thought the child had been sexually assaulted there,” he said.

McCabria argued the mother initially was confused by the girl’s accounting of the incident and had wanted to make sure the assault actually had happened before she accused someone of such a serious crime.

The prosecutor urged jurors to weigh all the evidence and use their common sense and practical life experiences to determine if the defendant was guilty or innocent.

“I’m confident you will find the defendant guilty on all charges.”

comments powered by Disqus