Herald JournalHoward Lake-Waverly Herald, Aug. 12, 2002

Custer's case dismissed as testimony is recanted

By Lynda Jensen

The case of Howard Lake resident Mark Custer was dismissed by the state in a Buffalo courtroom last Monday with several Howard Lake people in attendance.
Four charges of criminal sexual conduct brought against Custer were dismissed, following the girl recanting her testimony.

Although a jury trial was scheduled for Monday, the county attorney's office filed for a motion of "in limine" before that time, which means the judge makes a ruling about evidence in a case, before it reaches a jury's ears. Therefore, no jury was present in the courtroom.

Judge Dale Mossey listened to arguments from Custer's attorney, Bob Paule, and attorney Mark Erickson from the Wright County Attorney's Office.
Erickson attempted to persuade Judge Mossey to admit the original statements made by the girl before she recanted.

Paule pressed the court to deny admitting the prior statements made by the girl.

Timeline of events

The girl made the accusations during interviews with human services and the sheriff's office Oct. 29 and Oct. 31 last year.

She was interviewed following an anonymous call that was placed to the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted High School. This call turned out to be made by a boyfriend who lived in Arizona that the girl met on the Internet, according to Bob Paule, Custer's lawyer.

She recanted the story April 14, Paule said; although the exact date is disputed by the Wright County Attorney's Office as being later May, following public outcry.
Paule described the events as follows:

· the anonymous call was made by her Internet boyfriend in October.
· the school forwarded the complaint to the county.
· the girl was interviewed for the first time by human services and the Wright County Sheriff's Department Oct. 29, during which she made a long distance call to the Internet boyfriend in the middle of the interview.
· she was interviewed again Oct. 31 in a videotaped session, while being taken out of class at school.

Arguments

During the interviews, the girl's demeanor was un-emotional, which is typical of sexual abuse victims, Erickson said. "She was not eager to talk about it," he said.
Paule disputed this, saying that the girl's statements were solicited and unreliable. The state has the burden of showing the statements are trustworthy, Paule said.
"Her mental state does not give her a ring of credibility," Paule said.

Paule recounted the series of events, and pointed out that the accusations were not spontaneous statements made by the alleged victim herself, but rather an anonymous tip made by "Brad" her Internet boyfriend from Arizona.

The girl had control issues with Custer, who was identified as a member of her family, he said.

Custer was trying to limit the girl's access to the Internet, and the boyfriend was calling "all hours of the day," Paule said.

As a father, Custer was concerned about her Internet use, Paule said. "Is a child of this age likely to fabricate?" Paule asked. "Yes."

Erickson objected to this idea, pointing out that the girl had no contact with the boyfriend in the mean time.

"Her school performance, depression . . . even some of her delinquency ­ these are all aspects of a child that was abused," Erickson said.

For several months she continued with her testimony, even though she was not able to be with her boyfriend, Erickson said. "It's not a true motive," he said.
Many victims of sexual abuse will recant their stories later because of pressure to do so, Erickson said.

"This is a high-profile case," Erickson said. "Editorial letters were written in support of the defendant."

"What does that say to the lone voice of a 16-year-old?" Erickson asked the courtroom. (The girl was 16 at the time of her interviews.)

Under circumstances involving the case of a 16-year-old, these kinds of statements would not be considered reliable in a legal sense, Paule told the judge. She's not like a young child who does not know better, he said.

In addition, the interviewers who spoke with the girl had a preconceived idea of what they were looking for, Paule said.

Erickson countered that the people who conducted the interviews are trained professionals who do this kind of thing on a regular basis. They would have caught any insincerity, he said.

The case is now closed, and no appeal is planned by the Wright County Attorney's Office.

Since the charges were dismissed, it is unclear what will happen to the girl, Erickson said.

She is currently in foster care because of the series of events.


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