‘He would tell me not to tell’

Published 10:00 am Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A tiny, young girl used some grown up words Tuesday to describe to a Lawrence County Common Pleas Jury what had allegedly happened to her — repeatedly — more than a year ago.

The girl, who is now 11, told the jury she was sexually assaulted several times by Sonny Riffe, of Ironton, when other adults were not around to intervene.

Riffe, 59, of of 967 County Road 2, Ironton, is facing one count of first-degree rape. He has pleaded not guilty.

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The girl, who appeared thin for her age, said her alleged molester, “would tell me not to tell or he would hurt me,” she said.

Some jurors appeared to be upset as the child described, sometimes in graphic detail, what had happened to her and that she would try to push Riffe away from her and yell for him to stop.

Throughout the trial, defense attorney Chris Delawder has attempted to suggest the child may have been coerced into making a false statement to please other people.

Assistant Lawrence County Prosecutor Jeff Smith repeatedly asked her if she was being honest.

“You promised to tell the truth,” Smith asked. “Are you telling the truth now?”

“Yes,” she replied. She told Smith she often told Riffe what he was doing was painful but this elicited no response from him.

“He made me feel scared so I kept it for a long time,” the child said.

The child said fear was what first kept her from telling adults what had happened. Fear, she said, made her at first deny to Children’s Services investigator Alyssa Aniyah that she had been assaulted.

Smith showed a videotape made shortly after Children’s Services began its investigation, a videotape on which she denied the rape and said she had in fact been coerced to make a false statement. The child said she had been threatened by someone else and that is why she denied the rape.

The victim’s testimony was the final offering by the prosecution, which rested just before 2 p.m.

Delawder then called several friends and neighbors who said they knew Riffe well and had never seen him have inappropriate contact with any children, his alleged victim or any other child.

One of the witnesses was his daughter, Connie Krimm, who denied a report Riffe had sexually abused her. Krimm said she had never told her half sister, Debbie Carmon, she had been an earlier victim of Riffe.

Krimm said when she spoke to Aniyah about the alleged incident involving the victim, Aniyah “made me feel like I wasn’t telling the truth or wasn’t remembering things correctly,” Krimm said. Aniyah’s probing, she said, had upset her.

Terri Cochran, a Riffe cousin, said she visits frequently and had never seen anything concerning between Riffe and any child.

“If I had, my kids would not have been around,” she said.

Cochran said she is so convinced Riffe is innocent, she would let him babysit her own 11-year-old twins.

But under cross examination from Smith, Cochran said she has never actually taken the opportunity to put her faith to the test by letting her children spend the night.

Most of those who testified for Riffe said they were at his house frequently, often walked in without knocking and never saw him in a compromising situation with a child.

“He never did anything inappropriate with your daughter?” Delawder asked long-time Riffe friend Keith Woods, whose daughter and grandchildren are also Riffe friends.

“Lord no,” Woods replied.

Woods, Cochran and others testified people came and went all day long from the Riffe house and often went inside unlocked doors without knocking.

But Smith pointed out that Riffe often heard visitors trooping across his wooden deck before they even got to the front door. Dogs kept inside the Riffe house also barked to announce the arrival of visitors.

Earlier in the day, the victim’s brother and another boy said they had been playing at Riffe’s house and had heard the victim screaming and yelling for Riffe to leave her alone.

The brother said he had heard his sister yelling out for Riffe to “stop” when Riffe and the victim were in a room alone together. The other boy said he once caught Riffe and the victim together on the sofa and that she was trying to get away from Riffe.

“His private parts were hanging out,” the boy said. Another time he had walked into the Riffe residence and caught Riffe and the victim on the floor in the kitchen and again, the child was trying to get away from him.

But during cross examination, Delawder pointed out to the brother he had often called the other boy a liar. Delawder pointed out to the other boy there were inconsistencies in his testimony in court and statements he had given earlier.

During the testimony of the two boys, Riffe sat beside co-counsel Michael Gleichauf and sometimes shook his head or looked down. During the testimony of the victim, he sometimes sat with his head bowed behind folded hands.

Both boys denied anyone had coerced them to tell lies against Riffe.

“Anyone ever tell you to make up stories about (Riffe),” Smith asked.

“No,” the one boy replied.

But defense witness, Dr. Joseph Wyatt, of Marshall University, said children, particularly younger ones, can be suggestible and therefore coerced into telling things that aren’t true.

He said it is extremely important that those investigating claims of abuse be properly trained to guard against false statements and should avoid asking leading questions.

But under cross examination by Smith, Wyatt admitted leading questions may be necessary if the child has previously disclosed abuse or if there is evidence of abuse and the child is denying it. He also agreed that a study once showed children are less likely to make up stories if it involved their own body.

The trial will continue today in front of Judge Charles Cooper.