Rape trial in jury’s hands

Published 10:10 am Thursday, January 22, 2009

A guilty verdict based on evidence or a not guilty verdict as a result of reasonable doubt?

A Lawrence County Common Pleas jury is deciding between the two in the trial of Sonny Riffe.

Riffe, 59, of Ironton has stood trial this week and last on a single count of first-degree rape. He is accused of repeatedly raping a 9-year-old girl at his residence in the fall and summer of 2007.

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During her testimony Wednesday afternoon, Riffe’s wife, Carolyn, told the jury her husband could not have committed the crime because he is no longer able to have intercourse due to a myriad of health problems.

She told defense co-counsel Chris Delawder she had not had sex with her husband in more than five years.

Carolyn Riffe said she had never seen her husband do anything inappropriate with the victim or any other child.

“He loved them and they loved him,” she said.

She told Delawder the rape claim was the work of her daughter, Debbie Carmon, a woman she described as “jealous.”

“She never wanted me and him (Sonny Riffe) to be together, especially the kids, they were not supposed to be around me,” Riffe testified.

Earlier in the trial, Lawrence County Children’s Services investigator Alyssa Aniyah testified that when the victim’s clothing was brought to her office, after the child and her brother was removed from the Riffe residence, the victim’s clothes were freshly laundered and the only underwear sent along was brand new, never worn.

Wednesday, Carolyn Riffe said the new underwear had been purchased for the child as part of her school wardrobe.

Previously worn underwear had been sent along in an earlier bunch of clothes, she said.

But under cross examination, Assistant Lawrence County Prosecutor Jeff Smith pointed out that even when the victim confronted Carolyn Riffe with her accusation against Sonny Riffe while they were at Hope’s Place, a child advocacy center in Ashland, Ky., Carolyn Riffe had been unsupportive and immediately claimed the rape allegation was instigated by Carmon, rather than believing and helping the child.

“I don’t believe it, never have and never will,” Carolyn Riffe said of the rape charge.

“You didn’t ask for any other details,” Smith countered.

“I was kind of in shock,” Carolyn Riffe replied.

“You were in shock but instantly knew it was Debbie,” Smith said.

In his closing argument, Smith said the case against Riffe had been proven beyond reasonable doubt and though Sonny had never confessed to the crime, his actions spoke louder than words.

“You heard his voice (on an audiotaped interview). What you did not hear was the emotion you would assume from someone hearing this (rape allegation) for the first time,” Smith said, “the anguish, the outrage over being confronted with it.”

Smith said when confronted with the allegation, Riffe, instead of showing concern for the child, blamed Carmon and even blamed the victim by saying she had been too friendly with strangers and once tried to pull her brother’s pants down.

Smith rejected the idea that three children who testified, who by all accounts loved Sonny Riffe, would conspire with Carmon to create a rape lie to get him in trouble.

But in his closing argument, Delawder said the case against Riffe was full of holes and that there is no physical evidence to link his client to the rape — if there really ever was a rape.

“There are no pubic hairs, no semen, no skin cells, no DNA, not even any bruising,” Delawder said.

He said the allegation was the work of Carmon, a woman he described as paranoid and eager to get her hands on any government assistance check she could.

Delawder said her testimony had contained numerous lies that had been debunked by defense witnesses.

“Debbie Carmon lied about (the victim) never going out of the house. You saw pictures of her going to Disney World, Noah’s Ark. How incredible is that?” Delawder asked.

“Debbie Carmon said Connie Krimm had the allegation Sonny did something to her. And she drove all the way from Myrtle Beach to talk to you and tell you that never happened.”

Delawder said the victim and other children had repeatedly told authorities the rape never occurred and yet investigators persisted in believing there was a rape.

“Reasonable doubt is everywhere in every aspect of this case,” Delawder said.

The six-man, six-woman jury received the case just after 4 p.m. Wednesday and deliberated a short time before deciding to go home for the evening.

(One female alternate was excused at the end of the trial and one female alternate took the placed of another female juror who fell ill last week).

The jury was expected to resume deliberations at 9 a.m. today.