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State v. Pitman

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

January 16, 2019


          Appealed from the First Judicial District Court for the Parish of Caddo, Louisiana Trial Court No. 328716 Honorable Brady D. O'Callaghan, Judge

          LOUISIANA APPELLATE PROJECT By: Carey J. Ellis, III Counsel for Appellant


          JAMES E. STEWART, SR. District Attorney MEKISHA S. CREAL TOMMY J. JOHNSON Assistant District Attorneys Counsel for Appellee

          Before WILLIAMS, GARRETT, and STONE, JJ.

          WILLIAMS, C.J.

         The defendant, James Hardy[1] Pitman, was charged by bill of information with molestation of a juvenile, in violation of La. R.S. 14:81.2(A)(1). Following a bench trial, the defendant was found guilty as charged. Thereafter, the defendant was sentenced to serve 45 years at hard labor, with the first 25 years to be served without the benefit of parole, probation or suspension of sentence. For the following reasons, we affirm.


         The defendant, James Pitman, and B.S.[2] were married in 2002; they had a child, I.P., in 2005.[3] The family lived together in a mobile home in Keithville, Louisiana, until the defendant and B.S. separated in 2010. At that time, B.S. and I.P. moved to an apartment in Shreveport, and the defendant relocated to another mobile home park in Caddo Parish. Following her parents' separation, I.P. would visit the defendant at his mobile home; some of the visits were overnight. At times, the defendant would spend the night with B.S. and I.P. at their apartment while the couple attempted to reconcile.

         In December 2014, B.S. filed a petition for divorce after she discovered that the defendant had been unfaithful to her. Soon thereafter, I.P. confided to B.S. that the defendant had sexually abused her on multiple occasions when she was younger.

         On December 5, 2014, B.S. took I.P. to the Gingerbread House, a children's advocacy center in Shreveport, for a previously scheduled appointment. [4] At the behest of the staff of the Gingerbread House, B.S. contacted the Shreveport Police Department and reported the molestation. Thereafter, the matter was referred to the Caddo Parish Sheriff's Office. Detective Jared Marshall arranged for I.P. to be interviewed by a forensic interviewer at the Gingerbread House. During the interview, I.P. detailed various sexual acts committed upon her by the defendant, beginning when she was three years old and ending when she was six years old. More specifically, I.P. stated as follows: the defendant would force her to "rub" his penis; the defendant would use his hands to "rub" her genital area; the defendant had penetrated her vagina with his penis; and the defendant had taken photographs of her genital area.

         On January 5, 2015, the defendant was charged by bill of information with one count of molestation of a juvenile under the age of 13, in violation of La. R.S. 14:81.2. The bill of information alleged that the offense was committed in Caddo Parish between 2009 and 2014.

         A bench trial commenced on November 9, 2016. Det. Marshall testified that during the course of the investigation, he interviewed B.S. and I.P., and he arranged for I.P. to undergo a forensic interview. He further stated that he observed the interview, during which I.P. detailed the sexual interactions between her and the defendant. On cross-examination, Det. Marshall testified that he interviewed at least two people with young children with whom the defendant had contact. Det. Marshall stated that there was no indication that the other children had been the victims of any inappropriate behavior involving the defendant. Further, Det. Marshall testified that B.S. reported to him that, in the past, she had asked I.P. about sexual abuse on several occasions and I.P. denied any abuse.

         I.P., who was ten years old, testified at the trial. During her testimony, I.P. identified her 2014 Gingerbread House interview, which was played in open court.[5] The video recording depicted I.P. as she described several acts of sexual abuse by the defendant, beginning when she was three years old, and ending when she was six years old. According to I.P., the defendant touched her inappropriately at three different locations: (1) the "old house" in Keithville where she lived with the defendant and her mother; (2) the defendant's mobile home in Keithville; and (3) the apartment in Shreveport where I.P. lived with her mother. I.P. stated that the defendant would remove his clothes and force her to grab him "down there." She also reported that the defendant attempted to kiss her on her mouth. Further, I.P. stated that the defendant would order her to lie on top of him, while both of them were naked, and instruct her "to move up and down." According to I.P., the acts she described occurred at all three residences.

         Additionally, during the interview, I.P. disclosed the following: when she was "five or six" years old, and the family was living at the mobile home park in Keithville, the defendant inserted the tip of his penis into her vagina; the defendant took photographs of her vagina and forced her to watch videos that contained "sexual" material; during one incident at her mother's apartment, the defendant instructed her to "sit in front of him" while they were both naked; on another occasion, the defendant forced her to rub his penis with "clear gel" and instructed her to put her mouth "down there" but she refused to do so; the defendant warned her not to tell "mommy or anybody" about the sexual acts; and she "felt safe" telling her mother about the abuse after her mother filed the petition for divorce.

         After the video of the Gingerbread House interview was played, I.P. verified that she told the truth during the interview. She also testified that she did not tell her mother about the ongoing abuse because she was scared the defendant "would try to hurt [her]." Further, I.P. testified that she "does not like to talk about" the sexual abuse and that it was difficult for her to testify regarding the abuse.

         During cross-examination, I.P. testified that prior to his arrest, she enjoyed doing things with the defendant, such as Judo, playing, and watching television. I.P. also identified a Father's Day card she sent to the defendant after he was arrested for the molestation.[6]

         Jennifer Flippo, a forensic interviewer at the Gingerbread House, testified that she conducted I.P.'s interview on December 5, 2014. Flippo was accepted by the trial court as an expert in "the field of forensic interviewing and in the field of child abuse dynamics."[7]

         Flippo testified that during her interview with I.P., the child exhibited the following behaviors when she began discussing the sexual abuse committed by her father: her head dropped, she spoke softly and mumbled, and she avoided maintaining eye contact. Flippo explained that I.P.'s behavior was common and indicated "embarrassment or fear." According to Flippo, I.P. recalled different episodes of abuse based upon where she was living at the time because children generally have difficulty quantifying time and often use events as a point of reference. Flippo opined that I.P.'s disclosure of the sexual abuse was not related to the custody dispute between her parents because I.P.'s descriptions of the acts of abuse were "very detailed" and did not appear to be memorized or scripted. Further, Flippo testified that it is common for an abused child to keep in contact with her abuser after the abuse ends. Flippo also stated that it was not unusual that I.P. did not disclose the abuse during her 2012 interview at the Gingerbread House because sometimes, children are not "emotionally ready" to disclose abuse "until they feel safe" to do so.

         B.S. testified as follows: she, the defendant and I.P. lived in Keithville until 2010, when she left the defendant and moved to an apartment in Shreveport; she filed for divorce in January 2014, when she learned that the defendant was having an affair; after the separation, the defendant moved to a mobile home located in a trailer park in Shreveport; I.P. would sometimes stay overnight with the defendant; occasionally, she and the defendant would spend the night at each other's residences; she noticed that I.P. would sometimes cry and complain that she did not want to stay overnight with the defendant; the defendant had supervision over I.P. when she stayed overnight with him; occasionally, her job as a kennel manager required her to leave the house for "an hour or so" on the weekends; the defendant would stay with I.P. while she worked on weekends; when she and the defendant were married, her younger cousin, T.Y., would ...

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