News and Tribune

March 20, 2013

Sexual abuse case wraps up

Fisher’s fate up to Clark County jury

By BRADEN LAMMERS
braden.lammers@newsandtribune.com

JEFFERSONVILLE — Closing arguments were presented in the fourth day of a trial of a Charlestown woman charged with engaging in and coercing sex acts with two juvenile relatives. The trial was in the hands of the jury as of late Tuesday night.

Juanita Fisher, 35, is facing several charges of child molestation, as it is alleged that between 2008 and 2009, she forced relatives, both of whom were under the age of 14 at the time of the alleged abuse, to engage in sex acts with her and with each other. 

The now 15-year-old girl and 17-year-old boy are brother and sister.

 

THE DEFENSE

In his closing arguments, Fisher’s defense attorney Mitchele Harlan continued to challenge the inconsistencies in the stories of the alleged victims, their credibility and hammered home to the jury the burden of proof the state must meet.

Harlan pointed to inconsistencies in the testimony of the victims, which included the home in which the alleged abuse occurred, the times of the abuse and the specifics of the abuse that varied from different accounts collected by various authorities prior to going to trial.

Between both children’s testimony, Harlan said the alleged abuse could have occurred anywhere from 2002 to 2009.

“It wouldn’t be a thing where you see major changes,” he said of the timeline. “There have been major changes.”

In addition, he noted consistent denials by the two children when initially confronted with the allegations of abuse, and another denial as recent as February 2012.

Earlier in the day Tuesday, as Harlan built his case, he rolled out a series of witnesses that were meant to put doubt about the credibility of the victims’ testimony in the minds of the jurors.

Harlan again brought up conversations over text messages and social media that the brother and sister had with the brother’s ex-girlfriend, who is now 15 years old.

According to the girl’s testimony, her ex-boyfriend told her that he had mentioned the alleged sexual abuse to her and also that he told her after the two had broken up that the allegations he made against Fisher were not true.

A series of conversations between the ex-girlfriend and the alleged female victim that occurred through Facebook in 2011 and 2012 were also presented to the court.

According to the testimony, the alleged female victim wrote in 2012, “What [my brother] said about [Fisher] ain’t true. If they find out what he said isn’t true, he’s going to jail.”

At the end of her testimony, the ex-girlfriend was asked what she thought of Fisher. 

“I don’t see her as a bad person,” the girl said.

The ex-girlfriend’s mother also was called in as a witness and was asked about the reputation the boy had in Charlestown.

“He had a habit of telling stories,” the girl’s mother said.

But she added that she told police, and reiterated during Tuesday’s testimony, that she believed Fisher was jealous of the relationship her daughter had with the alleged male victim.

“It seems like something strange is going on with the family, but I don’t know what,” the ex-girlfriend’s mom said.

According to the testimony Tuesday, a series of witnesses who lived with Fisher, her then boyfriend, and a number of family members said they never were aware of any sexual abuse taking place, nor did the alleged victims fear being with Fisher.

Fisher’s brother, Drew Fisher, who lived with her at the time of the alleged abuse, said he never saw anything that would indicate that abuse has occurred.

When asked if he trusted his sister with his children — who were also living in the same home — he said, “I trust her with my kids and my life.”

He added that she watched his children many times when he was not at home.

 

THE PROSECUTION

Clark County Deputy Prosecutor Linda Lamping countered by bringing up evidence during the defense’s case that the Department of Child Services had investigated issues involving Fisher previously.

Previous testimony from the alleged victims also claimed the reported incidents took place while Fisher was alone with the children and that there were no other adults present.

“Child molesting is done when people are not around to see it,” Lamping said during her closing arguments.

She added that the inconsistencies in the timeline in the testimony of the alleged victims are not uncommon, especially for children.

Lamping noted the testimony of Twila Hartmans, a therapist specializing in sex crimes, who told the court how sexual abuse could distort a person’s ability to accurately recollect the traumatic events.

“She explained all of that,” Lamping said. “The act they remembered. What was going on during that act, they always got that [the same].”

She also pointed to a specific instruction given to the jurors by the court regarding time.

“The court instructs you that time is not of the essence in the crime of child molesting, where it is difficult for children to remember specific dates,” according to the court instructions given by Clark County Circuit Court No. 1 Judge Dan Moore.

The jury entered deliberations around 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Fisher faces two counts of class A felony child molestation; C felony child molestation; B felony incest; two counts of vicarious sexual gratification, both C felonies; and D felony obstruction of justice. She faces a maximum 147 years in jail.