Rape trial begins for Ironton man

Published 1:29 pm Friday, January 16, 2009

A 9-year-old girl was allegedly sexually assaulted, but who did it — and when?

That is the question a Lawrence County Common Pleas jury must decide.

A six-man, eight-woman jury was seated Thursday to hear the case of Sonny Riffe, 59, of 967 County Road 22, Ironton, who is charged with first-degree rape of the girl to whom he is related.

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In his opening statement, Assistant Lawrence County Prosecutor Jeff Smith promised to take the jury through the steps of the investigation that led to Riffe’s arrest and once they had heard the evidence against Riffe, they would conclude it was substantial, he said.

Smith said the evidence included the testimony of people who knew the child as well as forensic evidence obtained during examinations of the child.

“I ask you to return a verdict of guilty based on that evidence,” Smith said.

But Chris Delawder, co-counsel for Riffe, said just because Smith said Riffe committed the rape “doesn’t make it so.” Delawder asked jurors to keep an open mind. He reminded them the burden of proof is not on Riffe but on the prosecution.

“My job is not to prove anything to you. What I will try to do is help all of us understand how a 9-year-old girl could say things and make allegations that weren’t true and how she could convince herself they are,” Delawder said.

Delawder said the investigation was one-sided.

During testimony Thursday afternoon, Teresa Riffe, Sonny Riffe’s daughter-in-law, told the jury the child told her in graphic terms about the encounters she had had with Riffe and that he had been abusing her for two years.

“I was horrified,” Riffe testified. “It was like the air had gone out of the room.”

“Did it take you by surprise?” Smith asked.

“Oh yeah,” Riffe said.

She testified that the next day, she contacted Lawrence County Children’s Services about the child’s statement. The child was initially placed with her.

Riffe also testified that when clothing for the child was brought to her home she found that it was all freshly washed but the bag of clothes contained no previously used underwear.

Instead, someone had put brand new underwear in the clothing bag. Some of the underwear was still in the bags in which they were purchased.

But during cross examination, Delawder asked Riffe why, if she was so concerned, did she not call the sheriff’s office the night she found out what happened and why she waited until the next day.

Debbie Carmon, Sonny Riffe’s daughter, testified the child had told her the same story and she urged the child to tell another adult, fearing if she told authorities she would not be believed. She said until this revelation, she had had no problems with her father but was not speaking to her mother, Carolyn Riffe.

Carmon said after the investigation began, Riffe confronted her and her son, “Peetie” and told her and others not to “run their mouths” about the matter.

“Peetie went to hug him and he pointed a finger at Peetie and said ‘Boy, you better not run your (expletive) mouth, either,’” Carmon testified.

“Did you hear your dad express any concern for (the victim)?” Smith asked Carmon.

“No,” Carmon replied.

But under cross examination, Delawder said Carmon’s interview with Alyssa Aniyah, of Children’s Services, contained numerous untruths, something Carmon denied. Delawder charged that, among other things, Carmon had told Aniyah that Riffe had previously had sexual contact with two other females.

Delawder also alleged she had been heavily coached about her testimony.

“How many times did you rehearse what you were going to say today?” Delawder queried.

Dr. Dreama Hunt, a family physician in Ashland, Ky., testified she examined the child Oct. 2, 2007, days after she told adults what had happened. She told Smith she had found scarring in the child’s genital area and other evidence that would be consistent with sexual abuse.

But during cross examination, Delawder pointed out that Hunt’s own records indicated the child was in good condition, was clean and well cared for. He also pointed out that Hunt could not say with any certainty when the abuse might have happened.

“It is impossible to say what period of time the injuries occurred, right?” he asked. Hunt agreed.

Smith said he may call as many as seven to nine witnesses and expected to call Aniyah, Lawrence County Sheriff’s Deputy J.C. McDaniel, who investigates child sex abuse cases for the sheriff’s office and Children’s Services, and another physician who examined the victim.

Delawder and co-counsel Mike Gleichauf declined to say how many witnesses they would call and if Riffe will take the stand in his own defense.

The trial continues today in front of Judge Charles Cooper.