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March 20, 2013

Fisher acquitted of sexual abuse charges

Verdict in child molest case returned after midnight

JEFFERSONVILLE — Shortly after midnight Wednesday, a Clark County jury found Juanita Fisher not guilty of alleged sex crimes against two juvenile relatives.

The 35-year-old Charlestown woman has been on trial for four days and faced charges stemming from alleged incidents in 2008 and 2009 where she was accused of engaging in and coercing sex acts with two relatives, both of whom were under the age of 14 at the time of the alleged abuse. 

Fisher faced 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. 

The jury entered deliberations around 5 p.m. Tuesday and it took seven hours before they returned the not guilty verdict. She was acquitted of all charges.

Throughout the course of the trial, the defense argued the stories of the now teenaged relatives were inconsistent.

Fisher’s defense attorney Mitchele Harlan challenged the inconsistencies in the stories of the alleged victims as he said the time, dates, places and specifics of the alleged abuse provided to investigators did not match up, and changed from account to account.

Harlan also pointed to several denials by the alleged victims that any crime occurred, the most recent denial in a Facebook conversation in February 2012.

Clark County Deputy Prosecutor Linda Lamping believes the inconsistencies in the accounts of abuse may have influenced the jury.

“I think the major impact is these children were interviewed so many times, and were so stressed out, they gave different dates for the sexual abuse they reported [and] I think that may have been important to the jury,” she said.

During her closing arguments Lamping pointed to specific jury instructions that time is not of the essence in the crime of child molesting, because it is difficult for children to remember specific dates. She also brought in 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.

“The jury is limited with what it can hear because of evidentiary laws [in Indiana],” Lamping said. “We put all the evidence allowed before [the jury] and we respect the process. We feel now that we all will have to live with it.”

She explained that Indiana evidentiary law places limits on number of witnesses the prosecution can bring in to testify in such cases. Lamping added there was a long history with the Department of Child Services involving the parties, but this was the first case that was brought to the prosecutor’s office.

A decision has not been made by the state on whether or not it will appeal the jury’s decision, but Lamping said it is not common for the state to file an appeal.

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