By Jeff Lehr
JOPLIN, Mo. —
A 9-year-old girl recalled in court Wednesday how James Terry would take her to King Jack Park in Webb City when she was just 3 and 4 years old.
She recalled riding her bike to the park with “Mr. Jim,” or he would take her in his car. Terry was the husband of her baby sitter, a woman in whose home she had spent considerable time since she was an infant. She liked going to the park with “Mr. Jim,” she said. He would catch her coming down the slide.
But she also recalled times when he would touch her “in a bad spot.”
Such as when he sat her back up at the top of the slide, she said. Or once under some stairs at their church. Another time beneath the Praying Hands monument in Webb City. Then there were the times she stayed overnight in the spare bedroom of the Terrys’ home.
“I was asleep and I woke up, and he was beside my bed,” she recalled.
“Mr. Jim” would be touching her, she told the court on the first day of the 64-year-old Terry’s trial in Jasper County Circuit Court.
The girl and her grandmother were the only witnesses to testify Wednesday as attorneys spent most of the day selecting a jury to hear the case. Three more alleged victims are expected to take the witness stand as the trial progresses. Terry is facing three counts of first-degree child molestation and a single count of attempted statutory sodomy.
Assistant Prosecutor Kimberly Fisher told jurors during opening statements that while Terry knew the one girl as a consequence of his wife baby-sitting her in their home, he came to know his other victims primarily through involvement with them at Christ’s Church of Oronogo. To two of the girls in the case, he was known as “Uncle Jim,” Fisher said. Terry was always playing with the children of the church, she said.
“But it wasn’t all fun and games,” Fisher said.
She said one of the girls who called Terry “Uncle Jim” will testify how he picked her up, sat her on a fence and reached up between her legs to touch her. Another alleged victim, who is now an adult, will tell how she was molested by the defendant when she was 11 years old, Fisher told the jury.
Defense attorney William Fleischaker told the jury that his client is a married man and the father of three adult children. He said Terry’s wife has always taken care of children in their home, and it was only natural that her husband should come to know those children. The attorney said that in the case of two of the girls, Terry had become something of a grandfather to them.
“I can tell you there are some reasons you should question the accuracy of their testimonies,” the defense attorney said.
Fleischaker said he believes the girls actually believe that the defendant did what they say he did. But there are reasons to doubt what they have come to believe, he said. His client has never been in trouble previously, Fleischaker said.
“This is just a burden to someone who has never done anything wrong in his life to have something like this come out,” he said.
The first girl’s grandmother testified that the Terrys began baby-sitting her granddaughter in 2003, when she was just 6 weeks old. The grandmother frequently went to their home to pick her up for her parents. She told the court that she never thought much about it at the time, but looking back now she recalls several occasions when she would arrive at the Terrys’ home and her granddaughter would be off somewhere with James Terry — at the park, or at the school, she was told by his wife.
The grandmother said that from the start, the defendant seemed to take an “inordinate” degree of interest in the girl, even writing a song about her for her first birthday and recording the song on a CD. In time, he began taking her to a convenience store for candy and to the park, she said.
One time when she went to pick the girl up, the grandmother told the court, Terry’s wife told her that the girl was in a back room with her husband, and she watched his wife walk back and knock on the door of the room. James Terry opened the door and spoke to his wife, but then closed it again. His wife came back out to her, and she asked why she had knocked, and she responded that she just thought it might be “important” to do so. The grandmother said James Terry emerged with her granddaughter a few moments later.
In 2008, when the girl was 4, she was playing “a knock, knock game” with her grandmother and made what seemed like an inappropriate response about “Mr. Pee Pee” and “kissing Mr. Pee Pee,” the grandmother testified. Upon further questioning, her granddaughter told her that “Mr. Jim” had made her kiss “Mr. Pee Pee.”
The grandmother testified that she informed the girl’s parents of this, and it led to the girl being removed from the Terrys’ care and the family quitting their church. She said that after that, the girl began displaying periodic bouts of depression and anger.
THE TRIAL OF JAMES TERRY is scheduled to resume at 10 a.m. today, weather permitting. Circuit Judge Gayle Crane told jurors that if the Jasper County Courts Building in Joplin winds up being closed because of the winter storm, the trial will resume at 9 a.m. Friday.