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Jury hears opening arguments in case alleging sexual assault of a child


During opening statements in The State of Nebraska vs. George Makris, the prosecution attempted to convince the jury that this was a case of betrayal of trust, while the defense worked to persuade them that the defendant had been wrongly accused.

Judge Derek Weimer heard opening statements from the prosecution and defense and three witnesses in the case yesterday.

Makris, a California man, was charged last summer with first degree sexual assault of a child and third degree sexual assault of a child, both felonies. The defendant is accused of touching the girl in inappropriate ways over the course of multiple years.

The alleged victim's mother, a relative of Makris, died in a car crash when the daughter was very young. Makris kept in touch with the children after her death and often saw them at family gatherings in Sidney, where his mother lived.

"Ladies and gentlemen," said Cheyenne County Attorney Paul Schaub, who is representing the state, during opening statements. "This is a case of betrayal of trust."

Schaub outlined a course of events in which a trusted relative took advantage of a young girl and touched her inappropriately in various ways, over the course of years. Afterward he told her to keep quiet and bought her gifts, Schaub claimed.

"She will tell you that she trusted him," Schaub said.

Although the defense contended that there was a rocky relationship between the alleged victim's father and Makris, Schaub indicated otherwise.

The defense also cited a mishandled investigation by the Sidney police as evidence for Makris's innocence. The minor underwent three separate interviews detailing the alleged abuse. The last interview took place in Sidney.

"There is not one perfect set of protocols for these interviews," Schaub said.

Lieutenant Keith Andrew of the Sidney policed followed up on the last interview himself.

"He will acknowledge that there were certain questions in that interview that he wished he would not have asked," Schaub said.

Don Miller, representing the defense, espoused his client's innocence.

"What this case is about is an innocent man who's been falsely accused," Miller said.

There was no DNA evidence, no physical evidence and no photos or videos of the activity, Miller contended. This case was based on nothing but false accusations he added. There is no evidence but the alleged victim's testimony against.

"The details in this case are not gonna be substantiated by the evidence," Miller said.

Miller cited the girl's varying series of events from interview to interview.

"Whether she was confused or manipulated, she has told different stories at different times," Miller said.

Some things a victim should know, she doesn't now, he said. Miller also condemned the investigation by the Sidney police.

"It wasn't a search for the truth," Miller said. "It was a search to convict."

He claimed that the investigation was neither complete or thorough.

"Evidence is gonna show that absolutely innocent behavior on the part of this man has been turned into something evil, something nasty," Miller said

Bad family dynamics caused the friction that led to the charges against Makris, Miller claimed.

"We're going to shed some light on or try to bring truth to what happened in this case," Miller said.

The first witness called to testify on Monday afternoon was the alleged victim's mother. She is the minor's adopted mother and has been married to the child's father for nine years.

The girl is now 12 years old.

The alleged victim was around two and a half years old when the witness started living with the girl's father. The witness described the alleged victim as intelligent, compassionate and a good sister. The witness detailed her family's relationship with the defendant before the allegations as a good one. They spent holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas with Makris. He called often and the witness said she trusted he and his mother to look after the alleged victim and her brother from time to time.

The witness claimed that she and Makris' mother got along very well. They would cook together and Makris' mother was teaching her to sew. The alleged victim's adopted mother claimed that she did not find anything out of the ordinary about the relationship between her daughter and Makris before the girl told her about the alleged abuse in June 2011.

"She seemed to love him very much," the witness said.

The witness claimed that the defendant would call about one time per month until after the allegations, and then began calling more often.

"She told me that her [relative] had been touching her inappropriately," the witness said.

The witness made a report the next day and her daughter was interviewed by law enforcement and at Safe Harbor in Cheyenne at a later date. They later went to Cheyenne Regional Medical Center for a physical exam to check for signs of sexual assault.

The daughter came forward many more times with additional information about the alleged abuse. Miller asked the witness if she'd told the child that she was proud of her for coming forward. The witness confirmed this.

"It a hard thing to do," she said.

Miller asked if the witness had questioned the alleged victim.

"I tried not to ask her, I tried to listen," the witness said.

The only thing the mother told her daughter was to be honest, she said. Then Miller asked the mother about a trip to the emergency room with her daughter in February 2010. This trip was because the alleged victim had a burning sensation during urination. The defense then presented the witness with evidence from that hospital visit. This evidence showed that her daughter was questioned about inappropriate touching and threats and had denied something of this nature ever happened at that time.

The next witness on the stand was the alleged victim's father.

Miller asked the father if he had questioned his daughter about the alleged abuse.

"I really didn't deal with this much, my wife did," the witness said.

The witness added that it made him feel uncomfortable. He described his daughter as a beautiful person who gets good grades. He had a positive relationship with Makris before the alleged abuse was uncovered, he said.

He claimed that he'd had some disputes with Makris' mother in the past, but said his family was close with her at the time before the alleged abuse.

The witness admitted that he'd joined with Makris in business dealings. In 2005, the witness made an investment with a scam company in conjunction with Makris and lost about $60,000 in the process. The witness claimed that he was not upset or angry with Makris because of this. It was his own money and his decision and ultimately his own fault for losing it, he claimed.

Schaub asked the father who was at fault for the failed investment.

"Those blame lie squarely on my shoulders," the witness said. "I'm the one who made the decision."

Miller asked the witness about his prior issues with Makris' mother. The witness had disagreements that were resolved in 2003-2004, he said. There was also an issue after a trip the alleged victim took with her in the summer of 2010. Someone on the trip had spoken to the girl about the way in which her mother died, which angered the witness. The witness claimed that he cleared that up quickly.

Aaron Foy, a detective for the Laramie County, Wyo. Sherriff's office was the last witness called on Monday. He received a tip from the Department of Family Services about the reported abuse. He then did a forensic interview and contacted Safe Harbor for another interview. Foy conceded that no DNA or physical evidence was found. The physical exam was done months after the initial investigation began, according to Foy.

In Monday's court proceedings, both parents claimed multiple times that they did not school their daughter on what to say during any of the interviews about her alleged abuse.


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