Jury acquits former Diamond School Board member

Johnny Russow

NEOSHO, Mo. — A 20-year-old woman told a jury Thursday that former Diamond School Board member Johnny Russow repeatedly took sexual advantage of her four years ago when she was 15 and 16 years old.

The woman said her family and Russow's family were close and spent a lot of time with each other, and he became like "a second father" to her. She liked his wife and their two children. Her own father worked longer hours than Russow, 48, the owner of an auto repair business in Joplin, and Russow would take her and her siblings places when her father could not.

"He was there for me when I needed him," she testified.

Russow is facing two counts of second-degree statutory sodomy in the trial that began with jury selection Thursday morning in Neosho. Five men and eight women were seated to hear the case before Judge John LePage in Newton County Circuit Court.

The nature of the woman's relationship with the defendant began to change when she was 15 and her family and the Russows went on a camping trip to Campbell Point at Shell Knob, she said.

She had retired for the night with her sister and Russow's daughter when Russow entered their tent, ostensibly with the intention of "givin' lovins" to his daughter. But while he was kissing and hugging his daughter, one of his hands was reaching behind him and rubbing her crotch, she told the jury.

She said she got up and moved to the camper where her parents were bedded down for the night with Russow and his wife. But Russow even dared to resume the sexual contact there, she said.

She didn't let her parents know because she "didn't know how to feel about it."

"You didn't say, 'Hey, what's going on?' or yell, or tell him to stop?" defense attorney Ross Rhoades asked on cross-examination.

"No," she said.

"Why didn't you do any of those things?" Rhoades asked.

"I was scared," she said.

Rhoades was curious about what it was she feared, and she told him that she was concerned with harming Russow's reputation. She explained that he was quite active in the Diamond community and the schools there. Everyone knew him and looked up to him.

"He cared for everyone in Diamond," she explained further on redirect examination by Assistant Prosecutor Kathleen Miller. "No one could see that's who he truly is."

And she had conflicted feelings about what he did. While she did not like what he had done, she liked him. He would give her things her parents could not and she thought if she told her parents "everything would just go crazy."

That summer, once she'd turned 16, his attentions became frequent and bolder, touching and kissing her on the sly, asking her to masturbate him, show him her genitals or touch him in a sexual manner. Once he went with her into a cornfield across the road from her family's home. She needed to catch a dragonfly for a school project, and he offered to help her get one down by a pond in the cornfield.

She said they caught one at the pond. But as they started back, he pulled her down to the ground, pushed her shorts aside and committed a sex act on her, she told jurors.

Jonathan Pierce, co-counsel for the defense, told the jury during opening statements that they would hear how the girl was infatuated with Russow and how in the midst of her infatuation she discovered that her mother was having an affair with him. It was just a couple of weeks later that she first made the allegations against Russow, Pierce said.

The woman acknowledged during her testimony that she first began to suspect her mother was having an affair with Russow her freshman year in high school when she found a sexual image of her mother on her mother's cellphone. The image had been sent to Russow. She said she confronted Russow about it, and he denied that he had ever received the image, although he later admitted to her that he had.

She testified that she finally told her boyfriend and then her parents about Russow's sexual misconduct not out of jealousy of her mother's relationship with him but out of disgust with him.

"I just got sick of it, and I fell in love with (my boyfriend)," she told the court.

The woman's mother, the other witness called to testify the first day of a trial expected to conclude sometime Friday, acknowledged that her affair with Russow lasted three years, although the last year or so, she was wanting out. When her daughter disclosed to her what he had been doing with her, she let her husband know and they severed relations with the Russows, she said.

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