Defense efforts to convince a jury that five young victims were fabricating their stories of sexual abuse at the hands of Daniel Chavez ended on a predominantly flat note Thursday.
Jurors deliberated slightly more than two hours in the Jasper County Circuit Court case before returning verdicts finding the 66-year-old Webb City man guilty on eight of 12 counts he was facing, five of which carry a punishment range of up to life in prison.
Chavez was convicted on two counts of first-degree statutory sodomy for acts perpetrated about 20 years ago on a girl who was between the ages of 7 and 8 at the time and is now 27 and living in another part of the state.
He was convicted as well of first-degree statutory sodomy with a second girl who is 17 now but only 4 or 5 when she was molested when she walked in on him in a bathroom around 2008.
The jury of seven women and five men also found Chavez guilty of molesting a third girl and showing her pornography around 2006 when she was 4 or 5 years old. She is now a 19-year-old woman.
But the verdicts they returned on alleged acts committed with the fourth and primary victim in the case, a 17-year-old girl who was between the ages of 8 and 11 at the time, were split.
Jurors convicted Chavez with respect to acts of statutory sodomy and attempted statutory sodomy with her in a bedroom and in a detached garage of a residence in Webb City and of showing her pornography on a television.
But they acquitted him of three counts of child molestation and another count of attempted statutory sodomy with respect to incidents on a couch at his home in Oronogo, the porch of the residence in Webb City, while purportedly carrying her to a pond near that residence and during a ride on his motorcycle.
Chavez and his son, Walker Chavez, took the witness stand Thursday in an effort to convince jurors that his accusers were lying.
The son described the primary victim in the case as a girl who “didn’t really listen to anyone” growing up and seemed in need of attention she might not have been getting at home.
The son and his father told the jury that her testimony that most of the incidents of abuse involving her had taken place at the defendant’s home in Webb City between 2012 and 2015 could not be true because their family was actually living in Oronogo in those years.
The father and son said the girl’s family actually became angry with the defendant over a money matter.
Daniel Chavez testified that his job as a natural gas pipeline inspector kept him on the road for all but one or two weekends a month and that he rarely even saw the girls accusing him and never had any time with them alone that he could recall.
Chavez told jurors he never showed any of the girls pornography at his house, always kept the door locked when he was in the bathroom and no one ever walked in on him, that his neighbor did not allow anyone onto her property with the pond where he purportedly molested another of the girls and that he could never have touched her while providing her a ride on the back of his motorcycle because none of his bikes had back seats.
Assistant Prosecutor Kimberly Fisher scoffed at the defendant’s motorcycle incident defense during cross-examination, pointing out how petite the girl in question was even now at 17 years old.
“It’s your testimony today that you couldn’t fit an even tinier (girl) — an 8-year-old (girl) — on the back of that bike?” she asked.
The defense argued throughout the trial that the silence of the alleged victims for several years should raise doubt about their testimonies in court and that their allegations are the result of “a snowball effect” that began when the primary victim and two of the other girls discussed the matter a couple of years ago at a snow cone stand.
“We encourage our children to tell stories,” defense attorney Mark Hammer told the jury during closing arguments. “We also encourage them to tell us when something bad is happening to us.”
But none of the girls did in this case until years later when one of them got caught up in an emotional moment at a church camp and suddenly began to view herself as a victim, he argued. But her story doesn’t even hold up as to whose house the abuse took place in and when, he argued.
“My client didn’t live there during that period,” Hammer told jurors.
Fisher said who lived in the house and when shouldn’t matter. The defendant acknowledged that he lived there until 2012 when he moved to Oronogo and that he moved back there in 2016.
She told jurors that the trial boiled down to who they believe, the defendant or his victims who showed them in the tears and evident trauma of their testimonies “the demeanor of five women who were telling the truth,” she said.
“There’s no reason for one of them to lie,” Fisher said, “much less for five of them to come forward.”
Circuit Judge Dean Dankelson ordered the completion of a sentencing assessment of Chavez before a sentencing hearing Dec. 13. The judge further ordered that the defendant remain in custody without bond pending that hearing.