Jurors did not buy defense claims of a botched investigation and that five teens were lying at the sexual abuse trial of Daniel Franklin, convicting him Thursday of all counts he was facing and recommending he serve 99 years in prison.
The jury deliberated a little more than two hours at the conclusion of two days of testimony in Jasper County Circuit Court before returning verdicts finding the 62-year-old rural Joplin man guilty of three counts each of first-degree statutory rape and first-degree statutory sodomy, two counts of first-degree child molestation, and single counts of enticement of a child and unlawful use of a weapon.
The girl who was the victim in seven of the 10 counts, including the six rape and sodomy convictions, wrote in a victim-impact statement read into the court record during the sentencing phase of the trial that Franklin's abuse of her — which began when she was 11 — has left her with bouts of depression and anxiety, trust issues and night terrors. He "ruined" her future in certain irrevocable ways, she pointed out.
"I wanted to save myself for marriage," the 16-year-old girl explained in her statement.
While she was the primary victim of Franklin, the jury also heard Wednesday from two sisters who were friends of the primary victim. They testified that Franklin molested them as well four years ago.
The defense tried to cast doubt on the primary victim's allegations that Franklin raped her and committed acts of sodomy with her on multiple occasions by calling an expert witness on Thursday to opine that the case did not meet national standards for evidence collection in sexual assault investigations.
Dr. Jennifer Johnson, a women's health nurse practitioner, said the case fell short of those standards in its failure to establish a clear time frame for the alleged acts with the girl who was the primary victim and the lack of any effort to take photos or collect evidence.
While there was reference made during Johnson's testimony to a sexual assault nurse's exam that was conducted as part of the involvement of the Joplin Children's Center in the case, "there were no swabs collected" and no testing for the presence of DNA, she told the court.
"The physical findings (of rape) we know were not there because the exam was normal," Johnson testified on cross-examination by Assistant Prosecutor Taylor Haas.
But she also acknowledged that physical findings of rape are not present in 76% to 80% of known sexual assault victims.
Public defender Craig Lowe took former Jasper County sheriff's investigator Jason Hutchins to task for failing to look for evidence that might corroborate or cast doubt on the accounts of the primary alleged victim and two other girls who claimed acts of molestation and enticement on the defendant's part.
Hutchins had admitted on cross-examination Wednesday that he never went to the trailer near Avilla where four of the five teens who testified in the case claimed Franklin had forced them to play strip poker and a "sex ed" game after plying some of them with alcohol.
"A man is facing life in prison, and Detective Hutchins couldn't be bothered to even go to the crime scene," Lowe told jurors during a closing argument in which he also focused on undermining the primary victim's credibility.
Lowe pointed out that her testimony that her brother and the two other girls — along on the first of a couple of "camping trips" to the trailer that Franklin had taken them on — had come into the bedroom where Franklin had taken her in the middle of the night in an apparent effort to try to stop him from raping her was not backed up by any of the other teens' testimonies.
She also had not recalled at trial previously telling investigators that he had tied her up with rope during one of the rapes until Lowe asked her about it on cross-examination, he pointed out to the jury. He further questioned why, if she had already been subjected by Franklin to the trauma of rape on a prior occasion, she would then accompany him to the trailer and bring along her friends.
Haas told jurors in his closing argument that the five teens who testified for the state — three victims and two witnesses to various elements of the crimes — had no reason to lie.
"If you noticed when the children testified, they didn't want to," Haas said.
They actually corroborated each other in several ways, not only in their separate interviews at the Children's Center but in each of their testimonies at trial four years later, Haas said. And the defendant himself even corroborated portions of their accounts when he took the witness stand, acknowledging that he had taken them to the trailer and that they had played cards, although he claimed they played Go Fish and not strip poker.
Haas asked jurors to consider how five children could get together and decide to tell a lie, manage to recount many of the same details when interviewed separately and stick to those accounts over a four-year period.
"The answer is: They're telling you the truth," Haas said.
One of the teens who was on the initial "camping trip" with the others but was not a victim referenced in any of the 10 charges also submitted a victim-impact statement that was read into the record during the sentencing phase.
She also was a victim in the sense that she was "enticed" into playing strip poker with Franklin and was a witness to the sexual abuse of his "sex ed" demonstrations. She proved to be the one who made the initial disclosure that brought the abuse of the others to light.
"You hurt me in ways I won't ever be able to heal," the 17-year-old girl let Franklin know in her statement.
She went on to note how the experience has caused trust issues for her as well, particularly with older men.
"I can't go to sleep without wondering what would have happened if I didn't say anything," she said.