Judge to rule on girls testifying in rape case

By Tim Weideman

Whether two of three young girls allegedly raped by a Fort Riley man last year should be required to testify in person at his trial was a point of contention during a hearing Thursday in Riley County District Court.

County Attorney Barry Wilkerson argued that District Judge David Stutzman should allow two of the victims – ages 10 and 7 – to testify via closed-circuit television so they could testify and be questioned without being in the court room.

The girls then wouldn’t have to sit a short distance away from the defendant, 31-year-old Christopher Bates, in a trial setting. Bates is scheduled to go to trial on Aug. 18.

After hearing arguments from Wilkerson and Bates’ attorney, Larry McRell, Stutzman said he would review the matter and make a decision in about a week.

During his closing statement, Wilkerson argued the state’s motion would protect the two victims.

“When you get right down to the issue, in this motion, the emotional harm to these two children would be devastating if they were to testify (in the courtroom),” he said.

McRell disagreed. He said there’s no reason to believe two victims would be unable to testify in person.

“It’s really speculative on the part of the state that these two children can’t testify in the presence of Mr. Bates,” McRell said.

In addition, McRell argued that if Stutzman ruled they didn’t have to be present in the courtroom, then the court should make arrangements for cameras and monitors to be set up in a way that allows Bates to see the victims and for them to see the courtroom.

Bates and the victims knew each other, according to prosecutors. The other victim in the case was 12 at the time of the alleged incident.

The incidents occurred in Riley County between June 1 and Aug. 11 of 2013, according to a criminal complaint.

In that document, Bates is charged with three counts of rape, one count of aggravated criminal sodomy and three counts of aggravated indecent liberties with a child.

On Thursday, Dr. Wanda Hugget, the victims’ therapist from September 2013 to February 2014, testified that she believed the two younger girls’ fear of Bates likely would cause them to become uncommunicative if required to take the stand.

Hugget said that, during therapy, the girls would talk to her about having “flashbacks” and nightmares of the incidents or Bates coming to get them.

Hugget added she believed that the girls would be harmed by a live testimony experience.

“I think that it would be something that would cause undue stress – not just in that moment, but for weeks and weeks to come,” she said.

After questioning Hugget, McRell argued there’s no way to know the girls wouldn’t communicate on the stand because she never asked or looked into that during their therapy sessions.

Hugget said her job was to help the girls cope with what they said had happened, not to prepare them for a trial.

McRell told Stutzman that Bates wouldn’t pose a threat to the girls during a live testimony.

“The children aren’t going to be defying any threats in the presence of Mr. Bates,” McRell said.

Stutzman said he hoped to make a decision sometime next week.

“No guarantees that I’ll have it decided by then, but I look to get to it as soon as I can,” he said.

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