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Forensic interviewers take the stand on second day of Makris trial

 


In day two of Nebraska vs. George Makris the defense attempted to discredit the interviews in which the alleged victim divulged information about the reported abuse, while the prosecution worked to convince the jury that no interview is perfect.

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 his female minor relative in inappropriate ways over the course of multiple years.

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

The first witness called to the stand Tuesday morning was Lieutenant Keith Andrew of the Sidney police department, who headed the local investigation into the allegations against Makris.

Andrew has worked for the Sidney police for 23 years and is a trained forensic investigator. Forensic investigations require adherence to certain strict protocols.

In May 2011, Andrew was notified by Aaron Foy, detective with the Laramie, Wyo. Sheriff's department, who was investigating the matter in Wyoming, about the allegations that allegedly took place in Sidney. An earlier story incorrectly stated that the alleged victim confessed the alleged abuse in June 2011, when this actually happened in April of the same year.

Andrew then contacted Monica Bartling of the Nebraska State Patrol who is also a trained forensic investigator to conduct the interview with the alleged victim.

"I wanted to use her because I'm more comfortable with our system and our interviewers," Andrew said.

He also cited his own discomfort in interviewing victims of sexual assault.

"It's more difficult for me as a male to talk to a female," Andrew said.

Andrew contacted Makris's mother, at whose house the alleged activity took place. He questioned her and went to her residence, where he took photos of the specific locations in which the alleged sexual assault occurred. The alleged victim had made a drawing of the basement where the activity in question reportedly took place and Andrew wanted to ensure that the layout of the space was consistent with this. He confirmed that it was.

The police obtained a futon mattress and cover as evidence. Semenal fluid was found on it, but it did not belong to Makris. Andrew indicated that the defendant volunteered to come to Sidney for questioning and to submit a DNA sample.

Andrew estimated that he'd investigated around 50-150 sexual assault cases during his career. Cheyenne County Attorney Paul Schaub, representing the prosecution asked if Andrew would expect to find physical evidence in a case of inappropriate sexual touching.

"I could be wrong, but I don't believe I've ever seen that type of forensic evidence on a simple touching," Andrew said.

Schaub asked if it was typical to find DNA after a penetrating act.

"The human body is always different and some circumstances are different," Andrew said. "Time is our enemy."

Andrew conducted a follow up interview with the girl at a later date, after Bartling's interview. He admitted that this interview was riddled with flaws.

"It was a basic follow up," Andrew said. "But I'll tell you I made some mistakes that day."

Andrew faltered in allowing the alleged victim's mother to be present in the interview room, but said he was thinking about the girl's comfort when he made the decision. Anyone present during an interview could, even nonverbally, indicate approval or disapproval of answers given. He also at one time during the questioning asked the girl, "Are you sure?"

Andrew acknowledged that this could have indicated to the minor that her answer was not the one the interviewer wanted or expected.

Don Miller, representing the defense, asked Andrew if the girl had been rewarded after her last follow up interview with him. The tape of that interview allegedly shows the girl's mother handing her what seems to be some candy after the interview. Andrew was adamant that this wasn't a reward and that he didn't see it until reviewing the tape later.

"There was no mention of candy if you do good," Andrew said.

Miller questioned Andrew about the danger of asking "are you sure" as an authority figure. Andrew confirmed that this could create concerns about whether or not the answer is correct. Miller also asked if a child's memory can be tainted by mistakes made in the forensic interview. Andrew confirmed this.

"You don't want the child to just agree to what you were saying," Miller said.

During the course of the investigation, Andrew did not attempt to determine through records or contact with Makris when the defendant was present in Sidney and if those times lined up with the alleged victim's claims.

Although the alleged victim reported that she had a cut in the vaginal area, no physical evidence of this was ever found.

Miller asked Andrew if he followed up on Makris's advice that Andrew should look into the family dynamics that he claims led to the allegations against him.

"I don't care if families get along or don't," Andrew said. The real issue at hand was whether or not abuse occurred, he continued.

The state's next witness on Tuesday was Jesus Campos. Campos currently lives in Denver and is on parole. He is a convicted felon. Some of the charges against him are fraud, theft and bribery. Campos claimed there was already a date set for his release from prison in Colorado before he spoke with Nebraska law enforcement about testifying against Makris.

Campos testified in a murder case in Kimball in June 2012 after purchasing a car from the alleged murderer. He was housed in the Cheyenne County Jail while waiting to testify because the Kimball jail was too small. Campos was placed in a cell with Makris in Cheyenne County.

At first Makris would not tell Campos why he was in the jail, but started to divulge more information as the 3-5 days they spent together wore on. Then, Campos claimed, Makris started asking him hypothetical questions about conviction for sexual assault. Campos claimed that Makris told him he had slept in the same bed as his female minor relative and they would sleep without clothes.

"He would shower with her and help her clean her private body parts," Campos said.

Campos was reluctant to admit that he asked for a letter of recommendation from various law enforcement in exchange for testimony in this case and the one in Kimball, but finally admitted that it was true.

A member of the sexual assault team at Cheyenne County Regional Medical Center confirmed that no trauma was found during the physical examination of the alleged victim, but that this didn't mean that nothing happened. The girl wasn't upset and was open about the alleged abuse, she said.

Another witness for the state was Lynn Huylar, the executive director of Safe Harbor, a child advocacy center in Cheyenne Wyo. Huylar has worked at the center for 14 years and conducts forensic interviews there. She's a nationally certified forensic interviewer. Huylar does not determine truth, she simply completes the interviews.

"We're a neutral facility," Huylar said.

She has conducted thousands of child sexual assault interviews.

Huylar does not tell the child how best to answer the questions and follows strict protocols. Huylar only vocalizes terms that the child uses to describe body parts throughout the interview and utilizes anatomical drawings to confirm exactly what body part the child is indicating. She interviewed the alleged victim in this case in April 2011. No one else was in the room during the interview between Huylar and the girl. She followed protocol for this interview and reported that the child could tell the difference between the truth and a lie.

Huylar advised that all interviews of this kind should be conducted with only the child and interviewer in the room.

"The research does support having the child in the room alone," Huylar said.

Her facility does not give anything to the children before or after the interview.

"There is some danger that it can be seen as rewarding them," she said.

Huylar added that asking a child if she was sure about an answer was very concerning. It could infer that the child answered the question to the dissatisfaction of the interviewer. She admitted that inconsistencies do occur in these interviews, even if the child is telling the truth, but the main concern is whether or not the core details stay the same. Huylar also said there is no perfect interview. She added that a bad interview can still yield honest results.

"You can have the worst interview and you can have and the child can still tell the truth," Huylar said.

Miller wondered if the victim in this case might have confused details of a previous abuse with details from this instance. Huylar was adamant that people usually don't mesh memories together in that fashion.

The state then called Makris's mother, with whom he stays in Sidney when he comes to visit. She has lived in Sidney since 2004. She confirmed that Makris would visit for holidays and that she would take the alleged victim and siblings to California to visit Makris during the summer. This witness brought notes with her to confirm dates of when visits occurred.

Schaub asked her multiple times if anyone helped her prepare these notes. The witness denied this. The witness said she obtained the information for her notes from her own calendars. These notes were entered into evidence.

The witness confirmed that there was a time when the alleged victim fell asleep on the futon next to Makris while watching TV and stayed there for the night. The witness then claimed that Makris and the alleged victim were never alone for very long because she has a small house.

The state then called its last witness for the day. Monica Bartling, Lieutenant with the Nebraska State Patrol, which she joined in 1988. She's now in charge of all the investigative services for the entire panhandle.

Bartling has completed more than 800 forensic interviews with children. She follows certain protocols during these. She does not try to obtain any certain information from the child. There is usually no parent present. Bartling also indicated that judges and juries decide who is telling the truth, not herself.

She, like Huylar, used a body part inventory to make sure she knew what body parts the child was talking about.

"We use funny terms for body parts," Bartling said.

Miller asked her if conducting a second or third interview in a case like this one was typical. Bartling confirmed that there are many reasons a second or third interview might be conducted.

 

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