Brothers take stand, say Davenport raped them

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 13, 2008

Prosecutors in the child molestation trial of state trooper Richard Dane Davenport closed its case Friday with testimony from two boys who said Davenport raped them. Meanwhile, the defense got started with one of the country’s leading experts in children’s traumatic memories and testimonies.

“Don’t weigh confidence in memory as accuracy of memory,” Phillip Esplin testified in court Friday afternoon. Esplin, a Phoenix-based psychologist who has been a researcher with the National Institute of Child Health and Development since 1988, said that he has studied factors contributing to what he calls “false alarms or false allegations” of sexual abuse and has worked with researchers trying to develop protocols for interviewing children who claim abuse. NICHD is a part of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md.

Esplin did not offer an opinion on the case, testifying that it would be unethical for him to do so since he hadn’t seen all the evidence or conducted interviews, but outlined factors that are involved in false allegations, interviewing children who have claimed abuse and evaluating children’s testimony. “Three of the factors that have the highest correlation of false allegations are present in this case,” he told the court.

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The case is being tried in Warren County Circuit Court, and presided over by Judge Isadore Patrick.

Earlier Friday, the jury of eight men and four women heard two brothers describe instances of fondling and forcible rape they allege Davenport, 46, committed against them. The first fondling or improper touching of the older boy, the boy testified, allegedly occurred when he was 9, on Halloween night in 1999. He testified that Davenport raped him in July 2003. The younger boy said Davenport began fondling him in 2003, when he was in fourth grade, and that Davenport raped him three times, twice in May 2007 and once in August 2007.

State law prohibits naming juvenile sex-crime victims.

In emotional and sometimes hesitant and angry testimonies, both boys said they told no one of the abuse, at first, because they were confused and embarrassed, and later because they were afraid of Davenport and of what other people would think.

When prosecuting attorney Jean Vaughan asked the older boy to describe its effect on him, he said, “I can hardly keep a relationship with anybody because I don’t trust anybody. I keep everything inside.”

In cross examination of both boys, lead defense attorney John Zelbst raised suggestions that sexual abuse in the locations the acts allegedly occurred was improbable because too many people were nearby. He questioned the boys about why they did not scream out during the acts or tell anyone, and asked them about earlier statements they had made to investigators that were inconsistent with their testimony Friday.

“I felt like — I still feel like — people won’t believe what we’re saying, that they’ll think bad of us like some people in this town do,” the older boy said.

In addition to Esplin, the defense called several witnesses who said they were close friends of the boys and had never observed anything improper or that the boys had never confided in them about any abuse.

During testimony Wednesday, jurors were told that the results of DNA and physical examinations of the boys did not reveal evidence of sexual abuse. The experts, in their testimony, said such evidence does not always show up even in cases where abuse has occurred. But a psychiatrist said that “within a reasonable degree of medical certainty,” the boys’ behavior is consistent with abuse.

The boys’ mother testified Thursday that she walked in on Davenport molesting one of her sons in September 2007, an incident alleged to have occurred in Oktibbeha County which led to a separate indictment. Davenport’s trial on that charge has been scheduled for the week of Oct. 20, said Jan Schaefer, public information officer for the Mississippi Attorney General’s office.

The Warren County case is being prosecuted by the attorney general’s office because Davenport was indicted in two jurisdictions.

The trial is to resume Monday, when Zelbst will continue the defense’s case. Commenting on the prosecution’s case after Friday’s session, Zelbst said, “I think their case overall was very weak, very speculative. There is no physical evidence of abuse. We end up with two young men who have a checkered past who want to allege some things about the defendant for reasons other than the truth.”

Lead prosecutor Vaughan would not comment Friday, saying the attorney general’s office does not allow comments during an ongoing case.

Davenport was arrested in January after being indicted by a Warren County grand jury.

A master sergeant with the Mississippi Highway Patrol, he has been on unpaid administrative leave since his arrest, and has worked at various jobs in the community since, Zelbst has said.