The first two of five victims took the witness stand Tuesday to testify at a Webb City man’s trial on child sexual abuse charges.
Eight women and five men were seated as jurors on the first day of the trial of Daniel Chavez in Jasper County Circuit Court on four counts of first-degree statutory sodomy, two counts of attempted statutory sodomy, four counts of first-degree child molestation and two counts of furnishing pornographic material to a minor.
The first witness called by the state, a 27-year-old woman from Texas, recounted how Chavez, 66, began molesting her in the summer of 1997 when she was just 3 years old.
She told jurors that her visit to the home of the defendant, his wife and a son was cut short when he began touching her inappropriately and made more deviate sexual contact with her on a couch in his living room while others in the house were asleep.
She said he told her not to tell anyone and offered her bubble gum if she kept mum about it. She acknowledged that she did not tell anyone at the time but did tell his wife that she wanted to call her mother and told her mother she wanted to come home.
The woman acknowledged under cross-examination by defense attorney Mark Hammer that she was unsure where the defendant was living at the time. She could not say with certainly if it was in Missouri, Kansas or elsewhere.
She is not an alleged victim of any of the charges Chavez is facing. She was called by the prosecution as a propensity witness, intended to show jurors that Chavez had a history of child sexual abuse that preceded his abuse of the others who are expected to testify against him in the trial.
A second 27-year-old woman, who is the victim in two of the counts he is being tried on, was visibly more shaken than the first witness by the experience of testifying that Chavez had sexually abused her on five or more occasions when she was between the ages of 7 and 9 years old.
She described one occasion when her mother had gone somewhere with the defendant’s wife and left her at their house playing with his sons. Chavez had come downstairs and asked her to come upstairs to a bedroom with him.
She said he locked the door and sexually abused her.
She testified that there had been other instances of sexual abuse that took place in the defendant’s bathroom and in his garage, and that pornography was involved on one occasion.
On cross-examination, she acknowledged that neither his sons nor anyone else witnessed the abuse and that her recall of it 20 years later in court was probably not as clear as the account she provided an aunt in another state a year or two after the abuse while she was still a young girl.
“As a kid, I probably had more details because it was fresh,” she said
She said she did not tell anyone what had happened until she told the aunt in Louisiana, and then told a doctor and police there about it as well. Her recall under cross-examination was that nothing came of her disclosure — no charges were ever brought — because law enforcement saw problems with her delay in telling anyone and the possible defense that her account was coerced.
Her abuse took place between the years 2001 and 2003. Assistant Prosecutor Taylor Haas told jurors during opening statements Tuesday that they would be hearing from three other victims who were abused by Chavez in more recent years. They are the subject of 10 of the 12 charges.
Hammer told jurors that the other three victims were “very close” and that a disclosure that one of them made almost a decade later started “the snowball” rolling that has befallen his client. The other two learned about it from her and only subsequently made disclosures of their own. But none of them had told anyone about it as children, he said.
“They never ever reported that anything had happened,” Hammer said, adding that “the corroborating evidence” Haas told jurors that police turned up is circumstantial at best and not forensic or truly corroborating in any legal sense.