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Interview style under scrutiny in child molestation trial

POSTED: April 13, 2013 12:59 a.m.

Testimony continued Thursday in Hall County Superior Court in the trial of a Gainesville man facing multiple child sex and exploitation charges.

Christopher Thomas Ray, 31, is charged with more than 20 counts of child sex crimes, in addition to charges of controlled substance violations.

Ray pleaded not guilty to all charges involving the alleged victims, who were brothers aged 10 and 12 at the time.

He is charged with seven counts of aggravated child molestation, six counts of child molestation, one count of enticing a child for indecent purposes and 10 counts of sexual exploitation of children.

He also faces one count of possession of Lorazapam (a tranquilizer) with intent to distribute and one count of attempt to violate the Georgia controlled substances act.

Interview techniques in the investigation once the missing 10-year-old was found at Ray’s house were scrutinized heavily by defense attorneys Friday during witness testimony and cross examination.

Gwinnett Police Detective Dan Appleby testified he had deliberately misled the child into thinking Ray had already admitted to touching him to “make the child feel more comfortable.”

“It’s the same as a suspect interview. ‘We talked to John. He said everything, we know you were there, you saw what happened,’” Appleby said, recalling the conversation. “There is a secret that’s supposed to be kept. Once it’s no longer a secret and that bond can be broken, its OK to be talked about.”

Brett Willis, senior attorney at the public defender’s office, asked Appleby if he ever considered that the reason the boy was evasive was not because he felt uncomfortable discussing the matter, but because the incidents in question never happened.

“We were running on the assumption that it did happen,” Appleby said.

Appleby noted the rarity that he would deliberately mislead a child interview subject — enough times to count on one hand, he said — but said his protocol and training allowed him “to deviate form in certain situations, this being one of them,” he said.

The subsequent witness and interviewer of the child that day, Gwinnett Police Sgt. Scott Killian, said it would not be how he would proceed.

“Do you typically tell children that you’re interviewing that the suspect has confessed when they’ve not?” Willis asked.

“No, that’s leading,” Killian said. “You don’t want to lead the child or victim, or tell them anything that is prejudicial.”

One of the interviewing nuances Appleby had addressed were the differences between open questions, direct questions and leading questions.

Appleby said his questions were not leading but pointed and direct, requiring a “yes” or “no” answer.

Willis asked presiding Judge Bonnie Oliver to declare a mistrial during the prosecution’s examination of Killian on grounds he had “opined to jurors” his opinion of the believability of the alleged victim’s testimony, in direct conflict of what he and prosecutors knew was an acceptable question for the witness.

Oliver denied that request, but did address Willis’ objection.

“No witness is to give their opinion whether to believe another witness, or the children, specifically,” she told the jury before attorney.

Wanda Vance continued with her questions. “The jury alone is to decide the credibility or believability of a witness in the case. No witness is allowed to opine to that.”

Earlier, testimony was concluded from the second, older victim listed in the grand jury indictment.

Willis’ cross examination of the now 15-year-old focused on inconsistencies in his reporting of the timeline of alleged abuse.

The trial will reconvene at 9 a.m. Monday.

One of the next witnesses is anticipated to be the Department of Family and Children’s Services caseworker who handled the alleged victim’s case.


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