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Juror dismissed from child rape trial

First witness called

YOUNGSTOWN — The prosecution called its first witness Tuesday in the rape trial of Todd Perkins, but not before the jury saw one of its members dismissed.

Before regular proceedings began, juror No. 2 informed Mahoning County Common Pleas Court Judge Maureen Sweeney and members of the prosecution and defense that she had seen an article about the case that morning.

Sweeney had admonished jurors, after they were empaneled Monday, not to discuss the case with anyone, nor read, watch, or listen to any outside information about the case, including news coverage.

The juror told the court she reads her paper every morning, but did not pay particular attention to the article because she knew she was not supposed to. She said she only looked for the names of the two attorneys she knows personally — lead prosecuting attorney in the case Robert Andrews and associate defense counsel Lynn Maro.

When questioned by both sides, the woman said she could not recall any case details included in the article and that she had not discussed the article with any of her fellow jurors.

After conferring with both sides, Sweeney excused the woman from the jury.

The remaining 11 jurors and two alternates were brought in, and questioned by the judge. Each one said that they had not heard anything about the article and had not read it, nor had the excused juror discussed it with them in any way.

The court seemed satisfied and replaced the excused juror with one of the alternates. The jury, initially composed of nine women and three men, now comprises eight women and four men, with one man remaining as an alternate.

Sweeney then allowed the prosecution to call its first witness. But after Andrews completed his direct questioning of that witness and the court recessed briefly, defense attorney John Juhasz moved for a mistrial.

Juhasz argued that each juror should have been directly questioned, individually and in closed chambers, to allow for full honesty and to ensure the jury had not been tainted by the excused juror. He requested that Sweeney excuse the entire jury and empanel a new one. The judge overruled the motion.

Juhasz has already had success on his client’s behalf in the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, which overruled Perkins’ 15-year prison sentence after Sweeney refused to allow him to withdraw his guilty plea in June 2021. Perkins was initially indicted on eight separate counts — six counts of rape and two counts of gross sexual imposition — involving allegations from two young girls related to him. His appeal was based on the argument that Sweeney should have allowed him to separate the cases. The appeal argued that if a jury heard claims from one girl that they believed to be true, they may believe that the other girl’s claims were automatically true as well, which would put Perkins at a disadvantage.

The appeals court ruled in his favor, he was released from prison and given a new trial.

This week’s trial focuses solely on allegations made by one girl, who was 4 years old at the time of the alleged offenses. Perkins faces one count of rape and once count of gross sexual imposition in the case.

THE WITNESS

Tuesday’s only witness was a relative of the girl who brought the rape allegations against Perkins in late October 2016. The woman described a conversation she had with the girl Oct. 29, 2016.

She said the girl was irritable at bedtime the night before she would see Perkins and did not want to go to sleep. The woman asked her what was wrong and she told her she did not want to be around Perkins because of things he wanted to do to her.

The woman described the timing of events after the girl made the allegation and how she proceeded with notifying Mahoning County Children’s Services.

The woman said she did not report the incident until the following afternoon. When she was asked why she did not report it in the morning, she responded: “every time I would try to dial the phone, I would break down and cry.”

She said she went to church and spoke to her pastor, who helped her compose herself enough to make the call.

The woman told the court that the girl had been “an adventurous happy child, very busy from the age of 2,” but that in the months leading up to the allegation, the girl had begun to have more emotional outbursts and trouble going to sleep on nights before she knew she was going to see Perkins.

On cross examination, Juhasz pointed out that the girl had seemed to enjoy herself at Perkins’ home because he had a pool and a trampoline. He also led the woman to admit that the girl hated taking naps and Perkins had a strict rule about naps.

Juhasz also questioned the woman about some civil legal disputes she had with Perkins, who has maintained his innocence since the charges were filed in 2017.

The case resumes this morning. The prosecution is expected to call four more witnesses, including the girl, who is now 11, and a counselor who interviewed her at Akron Children’s Hospital’s Child Advocacy Center in November 2016, after she made the allegations against Perkins.

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