By Ed Meyer
Beacon Journal staff writer
A smiling 6-year-old girl.
Her photo, taken as she sat at a play table in the sexual abuse center at Akron Children’s Hospital, was the last image prosecutors displayed on a courtroom projection screen Tuesday afternoon before jurors began deliberating the fate of a Summit County man accused of rape.
The date was April 30, 2012, five days after the child made the first disclosure about being abused. The defendant, Clayton A. George, has pleaded not guilty.
Summit Assistant Prosecutor Brian LoPrinzi asked jurors to take a long look at the photo before believing the defense’s argument that there is reasonable doubt in the case because investigators and Children’s Hospital caseworkers found no DNA linking George to any sexual acts.
“Do you think that this little girl is sophisticated enough, smart enough, intelligent enough, worldly enough, knowledgeable enough, to make all this up and to fool the world? I don’t think so,” LoPrinzi said. “And, ladies and gentlemen, the bottom line is, if you use your common sense, you will come to the same conclusion: The little girl was telling the truth.”
LoPrinzi then urged the jury to sign both verdict forms convicting George of two counts of rape — one in connection with the child in the crisis center photo, who is now 7, and the other in connection with her older sister, who is now 10.
Common Pleas Judge Mary Margaret Rowlands sent the jury home at 5 p.m. without a decision. Deliberations are to resume at 8:30 this morning.
Early last week, both girls testified against George with the assistance of a specially trained service dog, Avery II, sitting at their feet. The girls, each one on the stand for more than an hour, told the jury in often graphic detail about sexual acts George allegedly committed from Aug. 1, 2011, through April 25, 2012.
In his closing argument, LoPrinzi left the jury with another thought: Maybe the most powerful evidence in the case, he said, are Children’s Hospital videotaped interviews of both girls describing the alleged abuse to caseworkers.
“If you do anything in that jury room, I’m asking you to watch each of the videos of those two little girls,” he said. “Do you need an expert to come in here and tell you when a child is lying or not? Do you need an expert to come in here and tell you how to judge an individual’s credibility? I think not.”
LoPrinzi was referring to a forensic psychologist, testifying for the defense last week, who told the jury about an often-occurring pattern of what she termed “false memory,” or false confessions, particularly by young children who are easily influenced by others.
George’s attorney, Donald Hicks, emphasized in his closing argument that, without DNA or any other incriminating evidence from the girls’ physical exams at Children’s, there was enough room for the standard of reasonable doubt.
“We submit that you do not have enough information to judge guilt in this case,” he said.
The background of the child’s mother, who had a number of boyfriends and had lived in two apartments during the nine-month period of the allegations, also was of paramount importance, Hicks said. He pointed out that the biological father of one of the girls was charged and sent to prison for a sex crime — a fact prosecutors did not dispute.
And Hicks left the jury with another image, pointing out how the girls bounced around from one home to a temporary foster home to a third home before George was indicted in September 2012.
“We believe,” Hicks said, “that these young girls have been impacted by things that are almost unimaginable to most of us.”
Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or firstname.lastname@example.org.