Prosecution, defense paint opposite views of Davenport

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 11, 2008

In opening statements, a state trooper accused of sexually molesting two boys over eight years was portrayed in court Wednesday as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” by the prosecution and “falsely accused” by the defense.

The characterizations of Richard Dane Davenport, 46, who was arrested in January after indictments alleging nine counts of sexual battery of a child under 14 and fondling or touching of a child under 16, came Wednesday after a day of jury selection on Tuesday. The trial before Circuit Judge Isadore Patrick resumes today in Warren County Circuit Court.

Prosecutor Brandon Ogburn of the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office told jurors that Davenport was “a good looking, fine, Christian Sunday school teacher, almost too perfect,” and then repeatedly characterized him as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” who molested the two, who are brothers.

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Lead defense attorney John Zelbst countered that in 20 years as a Mississippi highway patrolman and driver’s license examiner as well as Sunday school teacher, Davenport “has been a mentor to kids for years and has never had one complaint that he did anything inappropriate.” The only complaint ever made against Davenport, Zelbst said, came from the boys’ mother, “who (had also previously) accused (the boys’ father) of the same thing.”

The indictments do not name the boys, who were expected to testify, and state law prohibits publishing their names.

Their father was among witnesses Wednesday and confirmed that their mother had withheld his visitation for several weeks in June 2001 after an incident involving an older brother of the two Davenport is accused of molesting.

“She was uncomfortable with what (the boy) told her and thought there were some irregularities, so she held up visitation until (he) could speak to someone about that,” the father testified.

Under cross examination, the father refused to characterize the allegation against him as one of sexual abuse and said he was unaware that one of the other boys had also complained to the mother that he’d been molested.

In other testimony Wednesday, jurors were told that no DNA from the defendant had been found on personal items used by the boys, and that no physical evidence of sexual abuse was found during examinations in January.

Experts stipulated that in some cases, such physical evidence will not show up even when abuse has occurred.

Dr. Wood Hiatt, a Madison County psychiatrist, also testified that he interviewed the boys and “within a reasonable degree of medical certainty” found that the behavior of both was consistent with having been sexually abused.

Under cross examination Hiatt said he had not interviewed any individuals who knew the boys, such as school officials, who were not directly associated with the case.

As presentation of the case began, Patrick made a change in the jury after one panelist disclosed information to the judge not disclosed during the selection process.

Patrick moved an alternate juror to the panel.

Zelbst said Davenport, a trooper with the rank of master sergeant who was placed on administrative leave without pay after his arrest, has been working various jobs in the area while free on bond.

The attorney general’s office is prosecuting the case against Davenport because he was indicted in two jurisdictions.

On the day after his arrest in Warren County, he was indicted in Oktibbeha County on a single charge of sexual misconduct with a boy younger than 16 stemming from an alleged incident in September 2007.