Rape trial continues

Published 11:00 pm Saturday, January 17, 2009

IRONTON — A 9-year-old girl who was the alleged victim of rape was “a chronically sexually abused child,” according to a Columbus doctor who testified Friday in the trial of Sonny Riffe.

Riffe, 59, of 967 County Road 2, Ironton, is facing a single count of first-degree rape. His trial began Thursday in Lawrence County Common Pleas Court and continued with testimony Friday from Dr. Jonathan Thackery, a child sexual abuse specialist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus.

Thackery testified he had examined the child and found evidence that the child had suffered “repeated injury” that would be consistent with multiple instances of sexual assault.

Email newsletter signup

Photographs taken during that examination were shown to the jurors.

“Is this considered an abnormal examination?” Assistant Lawrence County Prosecutor Jeff Smith asked.

“This is an abnormal examination, yes sir,” Thackery said.

Under cross examination, defense co-counsel Chris Delawder asked if Thackery had found other evidence of abuse, such as bruising, and Thackery said no, but absence of additional symptoms did not mean the child was not abused.

Delawder asked if the doctor could tell when the abuse had occurred.

“Could it have been weeks before the examination?” Delawder asked.

“Yes,” Thackery replied.

“Could it have been years before?” Delawder asked.

“Yes,” Thackery replied.

“In theory, could it have been the day she was born?” Delawder asked.

“In theory, yes,” the doctor replied.

Delawder also asked if Thackery had examined the child previously and had any knowledge of her genital region prior to the alleged incidents. Thackery said no.

Dr. Margaret Ng, a Coal Grove pediatrician, testified she had been the child’s physician for years and had never been told anything about the child being sexually abused earlier in her life and had never seen anything that would make her suspect the child had been previously sexually abused.

Alyssa Aniyah, a child abuse investigator for Lawrence County Children’s Services, told the court at first the victim denied the abuse when Aniyah first talked to her at her office Oct. 2, 2007. However, Aniyah said she saw that the child’s demeanor and her denials did not match and probed further.

“When I got to the part about the touching, her demeanor changed significantly,” Aniyah said. “She was timid, she was withdrawn, she turned her head, she dipped her head. It was a significant change in body language.”

Aniyah said while some of Riffe’s family have contended the child was sexually abused by someone else years ago in Kentucky, she checked and found no records of such abuse ever having been reported.

Aniyah said when clothing was brought to her office for the child and for a sibling, she noticed the victim’s clothing had been freshly washed.

“(The victim’s) clothing stood out to me because of the strong smell of bleach,” Aniyah said. “The underwear was brand new and had the tape still wrapped around them. This did disturb me because it came to light during the investigation that he (Riffe) went to Debbie’s (Carmon) house and got the child’s clothing and said he was told to do this.”

“Did the brother’s clothes include new underwear?” Smith asked.

“No,” Aniyah said.

“And did the brother’s clothes smell like bleach?” Smith asked.

“No,” Aniyah said.

Aniyah also testified that when she spoke to the victim’s brother, he became very emotional as he described being in another room and hearing his sister screaming and crying while she was with Riffe.

“He thought of it as wrestling,” Aniyah said. The brother is expected to testify this week.

But under cross examination, defense co-counsel Chris Delawder questioned why she had taken the child out of one home, where she was with people sympathetic to Riffe, and placed her in another home where she was with people accused of coaching her to give a false statement.

He asked whether or not she had looked into allegations the child was coached to give a false confession.

“You’ve ignored that concern all along, haven’t you?” Delawder said.

“Absolutely not,” Aniyah replied.

He also asked why Aniyah continued to probe the child about abuse after the little girl initially said she was not abused.

“She said no a number of times, didn’t she? And once she figured out you weren’t satisfied she changed her story, didn’t she?” Delawder said.

“She said no twice,” Aniyah said.

Delawder also asked why Aniyah had lied to Riffe about finding semen inside the child when Riffe came to her office for his initial interview with her and Sheriff’s Deputy J.D.McDaniel.

Delawder asked if she had ever considered the idea that the child was giving a false statement.

“Do you believe, Miss Aniyah, children can be convinced to say things that aren’t true?” Delawder asked.

“There is always that possibility,” she replied.

But under re-direct examination, Smith asked Aniyah if it were true that the moving of the children and the placement of the children in the homes of other people had all been approved at a hearing in Lawrence County Juvenile Court.

Aniyah said it had been approved by the court and was done in the best interest of the child.

The jury also heard an audiotape made when McDaniel and Aniyah first interviewed Riffe about the allegations made against him.

Riffe told McDaniel and Aniyah he thought his daughter, Debbie Carmon, who is his daughter, coerced the child into telling people he had raped her because Carmon is a jealous person who was mad at her mother at the time the allegations were made.

Under cross examination, Delawder pointed out to McDaniel that Riffe never confessed to raping the child and had been cooperative throughout the interview.

“Sonny came willingly to talk to you, he offered you all these things (blood and other tissue samples) after and said he would be willing to provide these things,” Delawder said.

But under redirect examination, Smith asked if during the interview, Riffe had expressed any concern for the child.

“Did you hear him at any time express disgust, regret, over what happened to this precious child?” Smith asked.

“No,” McDaniel replied.

The trial will resume Tuesday before Judge Charles Cooper.