Christopher Bates was found guilty of one count of aggravated indecent liberties with a child on Thursday in Riley County District Court.
After four-and-a-half hours of deliberation, the jury returned that verdict and a not-guilty verdict to another count of the same charge. Jurors reported they couldn’t reach verdicts for the remaining count of rape and three other counts of aggravated indecent liberties with a child.
The charges against the 31-year-old Fort Riley soldier were alleged to have involved two sisters, 12 and 10 years old at the time, and to have occurred at the girls’ home between June 1 and Aug. 11, 2013.
To protect the girls’ identities, The Mercury is not naming them or their parents. The Mercury also isn’t publishing the location of the girls’ home.
Prior to jurors leaving Judge David Stutzman’s courtroom, they heard closing arguments from Bates’ attorney, Larry McRell, Riley County Attorney Barry Wilkerson and assistant county attorney Kendra Lewison.
“With great power comes great responsibility,” McRell told the jury during his closing argument.
McRell said that, as the trial came to a close, the power in the case rested with the jury. Therefore, he added, it was the jury’s responsibility to presume Bates’ innocence until the state meets its burden of proof that shows, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Bates committed the crimes.
McRell said the jury should consider the fact that Bates testified Thursday morning.
“He didn’t have to offer a single shred of evidence,” McRell said.
Bates denied the allegations while on the witness stand.
“He answered every question that I had,” McRell said. “He answered every question that Mr. Wilkerson had.”
Bates was a close friend of the girls’ father, who is also a Fort Riley soldier. The two men worked together and would spend time together at each other’s homes.
Witnesses said Bates and sometimes his wife, Jacie Bates, spent some nights at the family’s home last summer. The alleged incidents were said to have occurred on nights when Bates was spending the night.
Earlier Thursday, Bates testified that he spent the night at the family’s home without his wife on a couple of occasions in August 2013, but never had any inappropriate contact with the girls.
On Tuesday, during Jacie Bates’ first testimony, Wilkerson asked her to cross out dates on a calendar the days that she believed she and her husband didn’t spend the night at the family’s home.
“There are a lot of dates that are not marked on the calendar,” Lewison told jurors on Thursday.
Lewison added that Bates had an “enormous amount of access” to the girls.
“That access gave him the opportunity to commit these crimes,” she said.
But McRell argued that “this calendar business” was misleading. He said that although Bates and the girls’ father spent a lot of time together, Bates couldn’t have been over the house as much as the state suggested he may have.
“Keep in mind your common sense in the ways of the world that he’s got to work,” McRell said. “(The father has) got to work. They’ve got jobs to do.”
Aside from work, McRell stated there were a number of reasons Bates wouldn’t be at the family’s home.
The older sister, Lewison argued, was consistent in both her testimony during the trial on Tuesday and in her interview with Riley County Police Det. Julia Goggins, who led the initial investigation.
“It’s your job, as jurors, to decide the credibility of the witness,” Lewison said of the older sister.
According to testimony on Wednesday from the girls’ therapist, the sisters referred to Bates as their friend.
“Does it make sense to you that she would make up a story about him?” Lewison asked the jury.
McRell also mentioned Goggins in his argument. But he wanted the jury to note that the detective didn’t collect any clothing from the alleged incidents.
Goggins, McRell said, also didn’t ask the older sister any questions about a letter she wrote to her mother disclosing the incidents.
As for when Goggins interviewed Bates, McRell said Bates didn’t “take the bait” when she lied to Bates about knowing the older sister and suggesting the girl was going through a stage where she’s “crazy” about boys.
“That’s what innocent people do,” McRell told the jury. “They don’t take the bait.”
Before the jurors exited the courtroom, Wilkerson told them, as he did during opening statements on Tuesday, that the case would come down to the words of “two little girls.”
“If you believe (the girls), we would ask you to return a verdict of guilty as charged,” he said.
Jurors returned a guilty verdict on one of the six charges: aggravated indecent liberties with a child charge involving the older sister.
That crime is an off-grid person felony, according to state law, which means it’s punishable by a sentence of up to life in prison.
Judge Stutzman scheduled Bates to be sentenced on Sept. 24.