The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Local News

May 2, 2013

9-year-old testifies to sexual abuse

ATHENS — Jurors in the trial of Barry Gant on Wednesday heard a 5-year-old girl say Gant awakened her, unzipped her “jammies” and removed her “big girl panties” before sexually abusing her in 2009.

Meanwhile, Gant’s attorney criticized the way the child was interviewed as well as a nurse’s opinion about the cause of genital irritation visible in an exam.

The 5-year-old’s testimony came in the form of a Jan. 3, 2009, audiotape interview with Limestone County Sheriff’s Investigator Randy Burroughs, which was made the day the alleged crime occurred. The victim, now age 9, also took the stand Wednesday to recount her story.

The audiotape, which was at times difficult to understand due to poor acoustics and the child’s rapid manner of speech, offered the 5-year-old’s account of the crime. (The Sheriff’s Department did not videotape interviews at the time.) On the tape, she tells Burroughs that Gant, whom she refers to as “Barry,” was watching a movie with her dad. She had gone to bed. At some point, she awakes or is awakened by Gant, who she said unzipped her “jammies,” pulled down her “big girl panties” and “poked” her. Also on the tape she indicated in her own words that he performed oral sex on her. She said Gant then went to the nearby bed of her 2-year-old sister and began to abuse her. She said when her sister cried out, Barry left. She said her sister thought Barry was a monster and she took her sister to her dad’s bed and covered her up.

Gant, 49, of Athens, who is charged with two counts of sexual abuse of a child under age 12, was a pilot and flight instructor at the time and had met the girls’ father in 2005 through Alcoholics for Christ.

The father testified Tuesday that Gant had called him and asked to come over to his home. (The father had custody of his three children since divorcing.) The father testified he had told Gant he was caring for the children and was getting ready to watch an Alabama football game. He said Gant arrived with a bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey and a bottle of wine. The father, who was not drinking, said he asked Gant to sleep on the couch overnight rather than drive home intoxicated. Gant, who had said he had also taken a sleeping pill, agreed. The father had put the children to bed — the two girls in their room and his young son in his room. The father then turned in between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. Sometime thereafter, Gant allegedly entered the girls’ room and molested them.

The father said he learned about the alleged abuse from his ex-wife, at whose home he had dropped the children while he went to work that morning. He telephoned Gant, who denied the allegation and then the Sheriff’s Department.

Defense attorney William Clark questioned Burroughs at length about his qualifications for interviewing a child alleging sexual abuse. Burroughs said that although he had no specific training in interviewing a child alleging sexual abuse he had been an investigator for 1 1/2 years at the time. He said he tried to conduct the interview as he did all of his interviews as a pursuit of the facts. Clark questioned why he had asked the child if anyone told the child what to say to him only to correct himself before allowing the child to answer. Burroughs said he did so to avoid asking a leading question — a question that includes all or part of the answer. At the time, Burroughs said, Limestone did not have a Child Advocacy Center with people trained at interviewing possible sexual abuse victims. He said the department has since allowed the CAC to perform all such interviews.

Clark also questioned why Burroughs wore a gun during the interview with the child and why he was the first to supply the name of the accused. Burroughs said it was a weekend when he received the call and that he was wearing street clothes and his gun, but was sitting behind a desk during the interview. As for offering Gant’s name in the audiotape interview, he said he was simply asking the child to restate what she had already told him earlier.

Toward the close of testimony Wednesday, Clark objected to the admission of a sexual-assault examination conducted on the girls, which District Attorney Brian Jones was attempting to present. Clark said he had not had a chance to review the documents.

Circuit Judge Robert Baker, who is presiding at the trial, dismissed the jurors temporarily and conveyed his displeasure. Baker pointed out to Clark that he had timed the lapses between some of his questions for Burroughs at between 5 and 8 minutes, noting, “I have tried to be accommodating and this is another delay.”

Clark said it would take 5 minutes to review the documents, and the judge allowed it.

Shirl Moyers, registered nurse at Athens-Limestone Hospital who has more than 100 hours of training as a sexual assault nurse examiner, testified that the redness and irritation present in the genital area of the girls was consistent with the report of abuse.

When Clark asked if, absent the allegation of abuse, the redness and irritation could have been caused by something else like improper wiping of urine or an allergy to soap, Moyers said it could.

Testimony continues today.

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