News and Tribune

March 12, 2013

Attorneys deliver opening arguments in child sex abuse trial

Two alleged child victims scheduled to testify against Charlestown woman

By GARY POPP
gary.popp@newsandtribune.com

JEFFERSONVILLE — Jury selection and opening arguments took place in the first day of a child molestation trial Tuesday that is being heard in Clark County Circuit Court No. 1.

Juanita Fisher, 35, of Charlestown, is facing two counts of class A felony child molestation; C felony child molestation; B felony incest; two counts vicarious sexual gratification, both C felonies; and D felony obstruction of justice.

The charges stem from allegations of sexual abuse on a boy and a girl who are Fisher’s relatives. The children were between ages of 7 and 11, when the alleged crimes took place between 2006 and 2011, Charlestown police reported.

The allegations include Fisher performing oral sex and having intercourse with the boy. Fisher is also believed to have coerced the two children to perform sexual acts on one another.

The obstruction of justice charge follows a claim that Fisher threatened the boy that he could be incarcerated if he shared with investigators claims of sexual abuse.

Fisher is being represented by two public defenders, lead counsel Mitchele Harlan and acting co-counsel Jeffrey Stonebraker.

Clark County Deputy Prosecutor Linda Lamping is representing the state, and Judge Daniel Moore is presiding over the trial.

Both of the children, who are now teenagers, are expected to testify during the trial.

During Lamping and Harlan’s opening arguments, it became evident that jurors will have to decide for themselves if the children have been honest in their claims of sexual abuse. That judgment alone, to made be the jury, appears to be a significant factor on whether Fisher will be acquitted of the charges or begin an extended stay in the Indiana Department of Correction.

Through a serious of interviews with police investigators, a Department of Child Services official and a forensic interviewer, the children were not always consistent in their accounts of abuse. Lamping said those inconsistencies should not be interpreted by discounting the validity of their claims of abuse.

“We have an expert who will explain child molesting syndrome, and it’s counterintuitive,” Lamping said. “It is like a rape victim, you think that they would immediately report, but they don’t. You think that they would tell you everything immediately, but they don’t. 

“They are kids. And when a kid hasn’t reported it or been told not to report it then it is very difficult for them to pinpoint exactly when it has happened.”

Harlan said he expects to illustrate to the jury that the children’s inconsistent reports may have resulted from other parties encouraging them to incriminate Fisher. 

“ ... To give them [the jurors] some thought process of the reasons why children would not be truthful about things,” Harlan said of how he wants direct the jurors. “And, those of us who have children or are around children know that they are not 100 percent truthful, just like, probably, many of us are not 100 percent truthful.”

Harlan said during the jury selection and through his opening argument he iterated to the jurors that it is the prosecutor’s duty to prove guilt, not his responsibility to prove Fisher innocent.

“We were trying to say, No. 1, to make sure the jury gave [Fisher] the presumption of innocence,” Harlan said. “I think in a case with child molesting, folks have a little more difficulty doing that.”

Lamping said the nature of the case makes it extra tolling to prosecute.

“This is one of the most difficult cases that any prosecutor can try,” Laming said. “You feel for these young people, who are teenagers now, but were preteens when they first had to reveal what went on, and they were even younger than that when the molesting actually occurred.”

The prosecution is expected to begin presenting its case Wednesday morning. If convicted of all charges and given the maximum sentencing, Fisher could be placed behind bars for 147 years.