Testimony is underway in the trial of a Scottsbluff man accused of sexually assaulting a 5-year-old girl.
Trial in the case of Jimmy Darnell, 70, began on Monday. Darnell is charged with first-degree sexual assault of a child and third-degree sexual assault of a child.
Scotts Bluff County Attorney Dave Eubanks, who is prosecuting the case, outlined that the girl had previously disclosed to her parents the alleged assault the day after it reportedly happened, but it had not been reported to authorities. In 2018, the girl reportedly viewed a presentation during health class, recalled the assault and talked to her mother. The assault was eventually reported to law enforcement after the girl had begun counseling.
Darnell’s attorney, Maren Chaloupka, argues that Darnell is innocent, and did not molest the girl. The assault allegations surfaced as the girl’s parents were divorcing, she said.
Witnesses in the case have included the girl, who had been called to the stand on Monday, and the girl’s mother.
The girl’s mother the stand Tuesday and pointed to the allegations as among the reasons that she and her husband were divorcing. She testified about a safety plan that the couple had agreed to after separating, which did not allow the girl to be in the presence of Darnell unless her father was supervising. The girl also is allowed to decline attending any functions at which Darnell may be attending.
According to text messages introduced that had been provided by the girl’s mother, the couple had decided after the girl had made a statement that concerned the parents to do everything they could to “keep her out of any situation that could put her in danger.” The text messages showed the couple arguing about the allegations, which her mother said had resurfaced after the girl had seen a presentation at school. The couple disagreed about the handling of the girl’s disclosure and the woman said she had told her husband that she wanted a divorce in late April 2018. The girl had been taken to a counselor in Colorado following the second disclosure and the text messages shown in court had occurred on May 1, 2018.
Eubanks asked the woman about text messages, in which her husband had said “whatever happened that time is not happening now,” and he urged the woman “not to dwell on it.” In response to Eubanks' questions, the woman said, “That is why we are getting a divorce.”
In cross examination, Chaloupka asked the woman if her husband had admitted in the text messages to having witnessed the sexual assault, made any statements about an admission having been made by Darnell or other similar statements. The girl’s mother said her husband had not made any of those statements in his text messages.
Chaloupka also noted in questioning that photos introduced into evidence had shown that the girl had been at and stayed at Darnell’s home without her parents since the couple had made their safety plan.
A sexual assault nurse who took the stand testified that the girl had not suffered any injuries or had scar tissue that indicated any injuries when examined in July 2018. However, she testified, that would not be unusual if an assault had occurred years prior and has been the case in most of the non-acute examinations, or examinations that occur after an extended period of time in a sexual assault case.She also testified that injuries would be dependent on the degree of sexual assault. The degree of sexual assault girl would also be a factor in any reports of pain or other symptoms.
Monica Shambaugh, a forensic interviewer who interviewed the girl in June 2018, also testified. She was questioned extensively on the process of conducting an interview, during which interviewers try to ask open ended questions to allow children to tell their story.
During the interview, the girl had disclosed that she had talked to her mother “woman to woman” and that when she had first disclosed, the family did not talk about it again. Later, the girl told Shambaugh, her mother had been “thinking a lot about it" and they had been discussing it more.
Jeanne Townsend, a therapist with extensive experience in sexual assault cases, testified that delayed disclosures are not unusual in sexual assault cases involving children. Children will test with an initial statement to see the response that they get. They may disclose more if they feel safe or may not disclose if they feel that the recipient of the disclosure is angry or they feel unsafe. It is not unusual for children to remember additional details as they feel more safe or can put into context the events that happened to them. Certain triggers may result in a disclosure, she said.
Trial in the case will resume Wednesday and testimony is expected to continue through the week, according to court documents.