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Landmark verdict: Carroll Co. man convicted of child sexual abuse without victim testimony

FILE PHOTO - Gavel generic (SBG)
FILE PHOTO - Gavel generic (SBG)
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Editor's Note: There is graphic language in this story. Reader discretion is advised.

A Carroll County man has been found guilty of two counts of inanimate object sexual penetration of his own child, who was under thirteen years of age, after a four-day jury trial. The jury delivered a swift guilty verdict on both counts in just twenty minutes. This verdict comes after a separate three-day trial in 2022, where the child's mother was convicted of the same charges. She has since received two life sentences, while her husband awaits sentencing.

These trials mark a significant milestone in Virginia, as they are the first cases where a child victim was not required to testify in court. Instead, the child's recorded statements to an impartial interviewer were admitted as evidence during both trials.

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Deputy Commonwealth Attorneys Jennifer D. Jones and Lindsay H. Honeycutt represented the Commonwealth throughout the trials and multiple hearings. Their aim was to introduce the victim's out-of-court allegations into evidence without subjecting the child to testify, using what is known as the "Tender Years Statute."

The Tender Years Statute, enacted in 2016, allows for the admission of out-of-court statements made by child victims under the age of thirteen in certain crimes. However, until now, previous applications of the statute required the child's testimony before such statements could be admitted as evidence. However, in this case, the Court ruled in favor of the Commonwealth's motions, recognizing the potential emotional trauma the child could suffer. This ruling hinged on the creative interpretation of the Virginia Rules of Evidence, which identified additional reasons for declaring a witness as unavailable. Ultimately, thanks to the existence of the Tender Years Statute, the child was spared from giving live testimony in either trial.

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Traditionally, child victims have had to testify in court or through two-way video communication, facing cross-examinations by defense attorneys under both circumstances. Compounded by the challenges of normal childhood development, younger victims may struggle to recall and effectively communicate past events in stressful situations, which further complicates the prosecution of such cases. These adolescent victims may also face continued emotional distress by repeatedly discussing and reliving abuse. Some children even refuse to participate in the prosecution of their abusers to avoid further trauma.

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The Office of the Commonwealth Attorney for Carroll County hopes these landmark cases will set a precedent for Virginia prosecutors, enabling them to navigate the inherent challenges of prosecuting crimes against child victims.

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