PINEVILLE, Mo. — A McDonald County jury deliberated into the wee hours Thursday morning before finally returning guilty verdicts on four of five child sexual abuse counts that Bryon Hansen was facing. Jurors could not reach unanimous agreement on the fifth count of rape.
The 39-year-old rural Joplin man was convicted of two counts of first-degree statutory sodomy and two counts of first-degree child molestation pertaining to acts perpetrated from 2012 to early 2015 with a girl who was between 11 and 13 years old at the time.
The victim, who is now 20, had testified the first day of the three-day trial — held in Pineville on a change of venue from Newton County — that Hansen's abuse culminated in an impregnating rape in January 2015. She told jurors that she learned she was pregnant in March of that year when she suffered a miscarriage after being punched in the stomach by the defendant.
With the jury remaining split on the rape allegation after about 11 hours of deliberation, Judge John LePage decided to declare a mistrial on that count.
The Newton County prosecutor's office subsequently announced that the rape charge would be dismissed and no second trial sought in light of the other convictions.
The molestation counts carry a punishment range of five to 15 years, the statutory sodomy counts from a minimum of five years up to a life sentence. The judge set Hansen's sentencing hearing for Jan. 31.
The victim in the case remained silent throughout the course of the physical abuse that she testified Hansen began inflicting on her at the age of 7, as well the sexual abuse that began when she was 11. She testified that she did not tell anyone about it because he had threatened to harm her and others in her family if she did.
It was not until she suffered the miscarriage and went to live in another home that she began gradually disclosing the abuse she had suffered. The rape allegation did not surface until almost four years after the purported date of the offense.
Defense attorney Jeremy Bennett tried during cross-examination of state witnesses and his closing arguments to cast doubt on the allegations in the minds of jurors precisely because of how long they had taken to surface.
Bennett also may have succeeded in fending off the rape conviction by getting the judge to take judicial notice of information put out by the Mayo Clinic on the average size of a fetus in the sixth and 12th weeks of development.
A girl younger than the victim, who was in the house on the day the victim said she miscarried the fetus, corroborated her story at trial by telling jurors that she also saw the fetus.
Bennett called her testimony into question with a deposition taken from her last summer in which she said she did not see any fetus. But the girl testified at trial that she was scared when she said that in deposition and that the truth was she had seen a fetus.
Bennett used the judicial notice read to jurors about the average size of a fetus at different stages of the first trimester to cast doubt on the state witnesses' accounts of the size of the fetus.