Editor’s note: The following story contains a description of an alleged crime of a sexual nature. Readers are encouraged to use their own discretion when reading.
The trial for a man accused of sexually abusing an 8-year-old girl began Wednesday in Juneau Superior Court with the mother of the alleged victim taking the witness stand.
The mother says her daughter, now 9, was sexually abused by Joseph Randy Dennis.
Dennis, 27, is standing trial in Juneau Superior Court on two counts of first-degree sexual abuse of a minor for allegedly touching the girl inappropriately. He is not related to the alleged victim. Those charges are unclassified felonies punishable by up to 99 years in prison.
Under direct examination from Assistant District Attorney Angie Kemp, the mother described how her daughter reported the alleged abuse to her on New Year’s Day. The Empire is withholding the names of the mother and daughter.
The mother testified her daughter told her Dennis changed the girl’s clothes sometime during the night and “messed with her privates.” The daughter complained it hurt and asked her mother to look at it. The mother said she then called 911.
The defense says that’s actually not what the daughter told the mother at the time, according to previous testimony the mother gave under oath and to her recorded conversations with police.
Public Defender Eric Hedland, who is representing Dennis, says the mother previously said her daughter complained of pain akin to a paper cut on her vagina, and that the mother assumed the worst when she heard that Dennis helped the girl change.
Pointing to a photograph of how police found the girl’s underwear and pants intertwined on the bedroom floor, which is as they had been pulled down simultaneously, Hedland said his client had begun to help the girl out of her clothes since she was still in bootcut blue jeans when she fell asleep. The girl woke up and then undressed herself, and Dennis handed her a new pair of underwear and shorts to wear to bed, Hedland said.
Hedland during opening statements Wednesday said jurors can expect to hear testimony from a doctor who will testify that the sore found on the girl’s vagina was not from trauma, and that it looked the same in photographs taken days and months after the event.
Prosecutors say the girl had never complained of pain to that area of her body before this incident and that a medical examination at the Child Advocacy Center in Juneau showed the girl had redness and bruising in her vagina.
Jurors will likely hear testimony from the doctor who administered that exam later in the week.
Prosecutors say alcohol was involved, and the mother testified both she and Dennis had been drinking on New Year’s Eve. They had gotten into a fight about finding a baby sitter before Dennis ended up going out to a bar sometime after midnight. The mother said she waited up for Dennis until about 3 a.m. then fell asleep.
The kids tried to stay up until midnight to celebrate New Year’s, but they fell sleep sometime around 11 p.m., she said.
The defense said jurors could expect to hear conflicted testimony about when the alleged abuse took place.
The mother said she woke up in the morning when her kids crawled into bed, which is when the daughter had told her about her injury.
The alarmed mother said she began screaming and yelling at Dennis, then called the police. Dennis drove to her sister’s house, where he was visibly upset, angry and distraught, the sister testified Wednesday.
The responding patrol officer to the 911 call, Officer Darin Schultz, testified Wednesday about taking photographs of the scene and bagging clothes as evidence. The case was then taken over by the investigations unit.
Jurors can expect to hear testimony later this week from the investigating officer who interviewed Dennis at the police station, Detective Brian Dallas.
Prosecutors say Dennis denied the allegations then changed his story after a while by admitting it was an accident, while the defense says that is a mischaracterization of Dennis’ statements.
Hedland says police interrogated Dennis with the same questions over and over again at the station, in recorded phone conversations and via text message through the mother, and that Dennis consistently denied the allegations.
The trial is scheduled to continue this and next week, but could go to the 12 jurors before Thanksgiving.
• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.