The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Crime & Courts

March 26, 2014

Child sexual abuse case ends in mistrial

The trial of a former employee of the Boys & Girls Club in Joplin on charges that he sexually abused a boy who belonged to the club ended Wednesday with a hung jury.

Jurors deliberated for five and a half hours without reaching a verdict in the trial of Christopher Foley in Jasper County Circuit Court.

Members of the jury of eight men and four women sent a note out after five hours indicating that they had taken several polls, were unable to reach a unanimous verdict and found themselves deadlocked on each of the two counts of statutory sodomy that the defendant was facing.

Assistant Prosecutor Nate Dally asked Circuit Judge David Mouton to issue a “hammer” instruction as a last-ditch effort to get the jury to reach agreement. But defense attorney Ross Rhoades objected, stating that such instructions would put undue pressure on jury members voting in the minority to change their minds for the mere sake of agreement.

Mouton decided instead to call the jurors back into the courtroom and ask if they thought additional time might produce a verdict. When all 12 said they did not think more time would do any good, the judge declared a mistrial and dismissed the panel. One of them later told the Globe that they had been deadlocked 11-1 in favor of acquittal.

The alleged victim in the case testified Tuesday that Foley, 30, began taking an interest in him near the start of 2011 when he was 9. The boy’s mother testified that the defendant approached her and expressed interest in serving as her son’s mentor. With her permission, he began seeing the boy and his two younger brothers outside the club, giving them rides home, taking them places, and buying them food and gifts.

The boy testified that Foley soon began molesting him on those outings, particularly when he managed to get the mother’s permission for the boys to stay overnight with him.

The prosecution’s case was hindered by a lack of any corroborating evidence on a BlackBerry cellphone, camera and computers seized from the defendant by police at the time of his arrest. The boy had told investigators that Foley asked the boys to send him pictures they took of themselves in the bathtub, and that he sent one to Foley’s BlackBerry. He also said that Foley took pictures of them while they were asleep, and that he came upon a picture of his own genitals on a camera belonging to the defendant and deleted it.

Rhoades called attention to that lack of any corroborating evidence during closing arguments, stating that sometimes police “overlook that their job is to find the truth.” He argued that Dally had guided the boy through his testimony Tuesday with leading questions and suggested that a taped interview of the boy at the Children’s Center in 2011 showed signs that he had been coached to tell investigators what he told them. He had jurors take another look at a segment of the interview in which the boy appeared to be counting items off on his fingers as he told what the defendant allegedly had done to him.

“I think it suggests he was coached and he was instructed more than once,” Rhoades said.

Dally told the jury that it was ludicrous to think that a 9-year-old boy could fabricate such a detailed statement about how he was abused and tell it in such a convincing manner within just a couple of days. He said the boy’s story had stayed the same and was backed up by the testimony of both his mother and the Boys & Girls Club director, whereas believing the defendant’s story required that one believe all the other witnesses were lying.

The club’s director, Rhonda Gorham, testified that staff members were prohibited by policy from having such contact with club members outside the club. She said this was spelled out in an employee handbook that everyone received upon being hired, and that those policies are reviewed annually by all staff members. While the club did have an in-house mentoring program, Gorham said, records showed that Foley was the assigned mentor for three other boys, and not the alleged victim and his brothers.

The prosecutor pointed out that the memory card in the defendant’s camera had been removed by the time police seized the camera and that the hard drive had been taken out of one of his computers.

“There’s no great scheme here,” Dally said. “There’s no conspiracy between (the boy), his mother and the Boys & Girls Club to concoct a story against the defendant.”



Hearing

CIRCUIT JUDGE DAVID MOUTON has slated an April 25 hearing at which a new trial date could be scheduled for Christopher Foley.

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