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Experts attest to child’s testimony

Prosecution rests its case in rape trial

YOUNGSTOWN — The prosecution rested its case in the rape trial of Todd Perkins on Wednesday after calling four witnesses, including the alleged victim.

The girl, now 11, was the state’s first witness. She testified to the best of her memory about allegations that Perkins forced oral sex on her in 2016 when she was four years old. She brought the claims to her mother in late October 2016.

During the day’s proceedings, which took place in the courtroom of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court Judge Maureen Sweeney, the state also played the full video of the girl’s interview with a specialist at Akron Children’s Hospital’s Child Advocacy Center on Nov. 9, 2016. Prosecutors called the interviewer, as well as the nurse who conducted the physical examination of the girl after the interview as witnesses.

The girl told the court that “inappropriate stuff” happened, “sexual stuff.”

“He had me put my mouth on stuff I wasn’t supposed to,” she said. When prosecutor Kevin Day asked her to elaborate, the girl stated she was referring to Perkins’ genitals. She said he told her not to tell her mom, and she was afraid that if she did “he wouldn’t love me anymore.”

Defense attorney Lynn Maro worked to establish inconsistencies in the girl’s story and highlight gaps in her memory.

The next witness was Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office Detective Sgt. Rob Smith. He has spent the past 14 years working exclusively with Mahoning County Children’s Services Bureau, investigating crimes against children.

Smith said his interview with Perkins on Nov. 14, 2016, felt odd because Perkins had been notified of the allegations in advance and seemed to have answers prepared for every question. Smith said Perkins repeatedly asked if investigators had checked to see if the girl’s genitals were intact.

Defense attorney John Juhasz delivered a hard cross examination of Smith. He forced the detective to admit that he had no training in forensic interviewing of children, that he had not watched the video of his interview with Perkins since it happened and that he never asked to search Perkins’ home even after he had learned there may have been clothing items with genetic material that could have been used for evidence.

When Smith said he did not feel that the clothing would have any evidentiary value, Juhasz pressed him on whether or not he had forensic training to differentiate between the evidentiary value of epithelial skin cells and body fluids. Smith said he did not.

Smith said that in 99% of his cases, physical evidence is never found or is not a factor.

“In my experience, when dealing with a child under 10, it’s super easy to tell if they’re telling the truth or not,” Smith said.

The first witness after lunch was retired nurse Jan Gorsuch, who conducted the medical examination of the girl after her forensic interview at CAC. After Gorsuch introduced herself, the prosecution played the video of the interview.

Interviewer Courtney Wilson was seen sitting at a table with the 4-year-old, who was coloring while answering questions. Eventually, Wilson talked to the girl about being improperly touched by Perkins. The girl described her encounter with Perkins vividly, and she said he even cleaned up after the alleged crimes.

At the time, Gorsuch was watching and listening to the interview from the other side of a two-way mirror. She told the court she listens to see if a child can answer questions in complete sentences, and with experiential details like sensations and textures and accurate descriptions. She also listens to see if they know details about human sexuality and sexual experiences that a child of that age would not know.

Gorsuch told the court that in her estimation, there was a high degree of concern that the girl was the victim of sexual abuse.

“She talked about sexual experiences but used the language of a child,” Gorsuch said.

Prosecutor Rob Andrews questioned Wilson next.

Wilson, who is trained in diagnostic and forensic interviewing of children, said she also is trained to know when a child has been coached on what to say by a parent or guardian — a key argument of the defense’s case.

Wilson said the child will only talk about that issue and will either be unable to discuss experiential details or will embellish them. She said there was no evidence that the girl had been coached.

Wilson then said she did not ask about distinguishing characteristics of Perkins’ body because it is not a commonly asked question in that setting. Wilson said her job is to inform the medical professional of how to conduct the examination, and those details would not affect how they proceeded with that.

After Wilson’s testimony, the state rested. Juhasz moved for an acquittal ruling, arguing that the defense had failed to prove its case. Sweeney overruled the motion. Sweeney did, however, give the defense a victory when she decided not to allow into evidence the written reports from Gorsuch and Wilson, meaning the jury will not have access to them during deliberations. Juhasz argued that the reports were little more than hearsay, based only on the girl’s claims. However, the video of the interview was admitted as evidence.

On Wednesday, the state also filed a motion to prevent the defense from mentioning a polygraph test, or the defendant’s willingness to submit to one. Ohio courts have generally declined to admit such evidence. The court has not yet ruled on the motion, but no reference to the polygraph has been made thus far in the trial.

It is not yet known if Juhasz and Maro intend to call any witnesses or if Perkins will testify in his own defense.

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