Jurors had their eyes fixed on the wood-paneled witness box for virtually the entire morning Tuesday as two Summit County sisters, one after the other, testified in detail about what they say happened to them in late summer 2011.
Beneath each girl’s feet, out of sight from the jury, a specially trained service dog, Avery II, sat quietly as she clutched his leash.
Clayton A. George, a 31-year-old Akron man on trial for two counts of rape, sat at the defense table, only a few steps away, in direct line of sight from the girls.
Sensitive questions about alleged sex acts began when prosecutors asked the first child, a 7-year-old, what she had revealed to a social worker as they were driving to a temporary Stark County foster home that summer. The girl began sobbing and couldn’t speak. After a minute or so, she recovered and told Summit County Assistant Prosecutor Aaron Howell that she informed the social worker: “Clayton did something to me.”
The 7-year-old then described the layout of an Akron apartment where she and her sister encountered the defendant.
The girl’s mother was working at a pizza restaurant when the incident happened, according to the 7-year-old’s testimony.
“He called me downstairs,” the little girl told the jury, referring to a lower-level bedroom. She then described sex acts that she said occurred several times.
Denise Smith-Hall, a Summit Children Services social worker who was involved in the case, followed the two girls in testimony. She confirmed the 7-year-old’s story about her disclosure, which occurred on the way to a foster home.
The girls and a younger brother later were placed permanently with their maternal grandmother.
The 10-year-old girl’s descriptions of alleged sex acts, which she said occurred at both her residence and another apartment in the city, initially caused her to break down, too. She later pointed to George as the man responsible.
When lead prosecutor Brian LoPrinzi asked the 10-year-old if she had made up any stories for the jury, she answered firmly: “No.”
It was the last word jurors heard before Tuesday’s lunch break.
Avery, who was brought in by the Summit County Prosecutor’s Office last August to help emotionally traumatized victims, never made a sound in nearly three hours of testimony. He did get up from the witness box twice unexpectedly, apparently after hearing something in a hallway.
He immediately took his place again when Judge Mary Margaret Rowlands gave the brief command: “Avery, sit.”
Rowlands told the jury before testimony began that the decision to use the dog in the trial was hers. She instructed the panel that sympathetic feelings for Avery’s interaction with the two girls cannot enter into consideration of a verdict.
Don Hicks, George’s attorney, said in opening statements that one of his chief witnesses will be a forensic psychologist who will testify about the pattern of what he termed “false memory,” particularly in children who are eager to please each other.
The 10-year-old, Hicks told the jury, did not come forward with her first disclosure until four or five months after the alleged acts.
The girl offered an explanation: She testified that George had a gun and had threatened her with it.
LoPrinzi later showed the weapon to the jury.
After a one-day break because of a court scheduling matter, the trial will resume Thursday. Rowlands said it is expected to last into next week.
Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or firstname.lastname@example.org.