Chappell case in jury's hands

By Ed Brock

Over and over, the prosecutor in Kenneth Chappell's child molestation trial asked a question of the character witnesses called on Chappell's behalf.

Would it change your opinion of a person considered to have a good reputation if you knew he had showered with somebody else's 3-year-old child, Clayton County Assistant District Attorney Rita Lewis asked the witness.

The questions were part of a back and forth pattern between Lewis and Chappell's attorney Ricky Morris and the witnesses that Morris called on Wednesday. Morris asked each witness if Chappell had a good reputation while Lewis asked if some of the charges in the case would change their minds.

At one point in the trial, for example, Chappell testified that he had showered with the boy more than once when he wanted to make sure he didn't wander off while Chappell was in the shower.

Afterward both sides gave their closing arguments, the judge explained the law in the case and then they were sent home for the day. The jury reconvenes at 9 a.m. today.

Chappell faces counts of child molestation and sexual battery in connection with accusations leveled against him by the mother of a then 3-year-old boy that Chappell had babysat at his Jonesboro home in May 2001.

When Clayton County police Officer David Edwards took the stand, the pattern of simple character witnesses broke when Edwards was asked to testify about his own experiences allowing Chappell to baby-sit his two sons. Lewis asked him another question she posed to the three other witnesses Morris called, whether his opinion would change if he learned a person he respected had put his mouth on a child's penis as Chappell is accused of doing.

"I'd be concerned," Edwards said.

However, Edwards, like the other character witnesses, added later that their opinion would not change if the charges were not true. Each witness, most of whom were law enforcement personnel who had worked with Chappell, a former Clayton County sheriff's deputy, also said he had a reputation for truthfulness.

In her closing arguments Lewis called that reputation into question.

"They didn't know the Ken who barricaded himself in his bedroom with (the victim)," Lewis said. "The person that Kenneth Chappell showed to the world is different from the person he is at home behind closed doors."

But Morris said in his closing argument that the state failed to prove its case. The interview with the victim by former Jonesboro police Detective Roosevelt Smith was "contaminated" by the presence of the child's parents during the interview, said defense witness child psychologist and expert at child abuse interviews James Lee Powell.

"We begin to get parents saying will you tell him what you told Mommy earlier, if you want to leave and play you have to answer (Smith's) questions," Powell said.

That makes an intimidating situation for the child even more intimidating, Powell said. Morris also criticized the fact that the interview was not videotaped but only audio-taped.

On the tape, which was played for the jury Tuesday, Smith asks the boy if somebody bit him, to which the boy responds "Ken did." But when asked where, the boy only says "Right here" and does not name the body part.

The boy's mother said he told her Chappell bit him and then bent down toward his groin. Smith said the boy pointed toward his private parts when saying "Right here" and also put his finger in and out of his mouth several times, a gesture Smith said indicates that it was his penis that was bitten.

Morris also pointed to other inconsistencies in the testimony of the state's witnesses in telling the jury what he thought were reasonable doubts that required them to acquit his client. The child's mother and her friend he claimed to overhear the boy talking about the incident gave different accounts of how much time elapsed between the time the boy made the statements to when they took him to the police, Morris said.

They also gave different accounts of what the boy said. The mother said that, in response to her telling him not to touch his penis, the boy said "Ken do it." The friend said the boy said "Ken do it to me."

Either way, Lewis said, a 3-year-old could not make up a story like that.

"(The victim) deserves justice," Lewis said.