Child will testify in abuse case

A 6-year-old child who was allegedly forced to engage in sexual intercourse with a 64-year-old man will testify in the Randolph County Courthouse courtroom – not in a separate room via closed circuit television – should the man’s case go to trial.

In the case of Edward C. Slaubaugh, of Montrose, Judge Jaymie Godwin Wilfong denied a joint motion made by special prosecutor Ray LaMora and the child’s legal representative, attorney Heather Weese, to allow the child to testify via closed circuit television Thursday in Randolph County Circuit Court.

In November, Slaubaugh was indicted on one felony count of first-degree sexual assault, one felony count of sexual abuse by a parent, guardian or custodian and one count of first-degree sexual abuse. According to the indictment, Slaubaugh allegedly had sexual intercourse with the victim and forced the victim to engage in a sexual act on Sept. 17, 2011.

The child was 5 years old at the time the alleged incidents occurred.

During Thursday’s evidentiary hearing, psychologist Dr. Timothy Sar testified that he’d found the victim competent to stand trial after conducting a psychological evaluation on her.

“She met the minimum threshold to testify,” Sar said. Sar also told Weese that during his evaluation of the child, the child “expressed fear” of Slaubaugh and “was likely to be distracted in the courtroom.” He consequently recommended the child testify via closed circuit television.

Slaubaugh’s attorney, James Hawkins, suggested an alternate solution to closed circuit television – erecting barriers and positioning the child’s seat in the courtroom so she wouldn’t be able to see Slaubaugh.

“You didn’t expressly say in your recommendation that she couldn’t be in the same room with Mr. Slaubaugh, did you?” Hawkins asked the psychologist.

“The idea is no face-to-face contact,” Sar told Hawkins. “I would recommend no visual or auditory contact.”

In her closing argument, Weese countered that it was in the child’s best interest to allow closed circuit testimony.

“Part of it has to do with her distractibility and the risk of emotional harm to the child is present,” Weese said. “The child expressed a fear to the psychologist of Mr. Slaubaugh. How can she get into the courtroom without seeing Mr. Slaubaugh?”

Hawkins said Slaubaugh’s right, as the accused, to confront his accuser, the victim, superseded the issue of the child’s distractibility.

“However, the emotional harm outweighs the right to confrontation,” Hawkins said. “But this witness (the alleged victim) could be set up in the courtroom in a way that she would not be confronted by Mr. Slaubaugh.

“And the idea that she can’t come into the courtroom without seeing him (Slaubaugh) is easily remedied,” Hawkins continued. “For instance, he can come in after her. It’s clear that alternate methods are employable, and from what Dr. Sar has said, so long as she isn’t confronted with (Slaubaugh), that would be fine.”

Wilfong sided with Hawkins and denied the joint motion filed by LaMora and Weese.

“It’s a difficult case,” Wilfong said. “We have the ability to do closed circuit testimony. The problem I have is, the finding that’s required by law for me to order there be closed circuit testimony would be that there’s no other way she would be able to speak to the jury.

“She would have to be physically unable to testify,” Wilfong added. “I’ll be honest, I want to send her to another building, but we’ll do some pretty extraordinary things to protect the comfort level of the child.”

Should the case go to trial, Slaubaugh won’t be present when the child is brought into the courtroom and he will be required to leave before the alleged victim exits the courtroom, among other measures, the judge said.

“My goal is for her to not know he’s here. These are very serious charges – if he’s convicted, it’s 36 years on the short end,” she said, turning to LaMora and Weese. “To the extent that I’ve granted your motion, it’s granted, and to the extent that I’ve denied your motion, it’s denied.”

Wilfong also denied a motion made by LaMora to revoke Slaubaugh’s bond after he allegedly violated one of its terms – that he have no contact with children – by visiting the house of his daughter-in-law, where her two children – both under the age of 10 – reside.

When Edward Slaubaugh came to the residence, his daughter-in-law, Jessica Slaubaugh, hid her children in another room to shield them from their grandfather, she testified Thursday, and as a result, Slaubaugh had no actual contact with them.

“Did he have contact with the kids? No,” Jessica Slaubaugh said, “but he wanted to show his new lady friend to our family and our children.”

Wilfong said Slaubaugh’s actions did not meet the criteria of a bond violation since he didn’t actually have contact with the children.

“I’m going to be frank with you, Mr. Slaubaugh, you’re making some really stupid decisions … if he’d had contact with them, he would be in jail right now, but there’s no technical violation,” she said.

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