Parts of this post were used in Aggravated.
What Was Missing From the Summary
After I had gathered most of the documentation related to Steve’s trial, I began making notes, comparing one set of documents with another. One of the first things I noticed was that much of what Hanna originally claimed in her affidavit didn’t appear in other documents, or was substantially altered. Also, some of what she alleged in other documents wasn’t mentioned in the affidavit. Ada Dixon’s summary of a few of her sessions with Hanna also departed from most of the other documents in various ways. An alleged kiss in Steve’s son’s truck, and a ride home from a rodeo that Steve gave Hanna and her friend, Rhonda Bresnick, were both missing from the summary completely, but showed up in Hanna’s narrative later.
The Kiss in the Truck: By the time I obtained Dixon’s summary (in 2016), I had already read the transcripts of both trials and Hanna’s interview with Tom. In all three of those documents, Hanna talked about an alleged kiss with Steve in Beau’s truck on the way to see the first Harry Potter movie, but there’s no mention of the kiss in Dixon’s summary. In the other documents, Hanna also said that her brother, Aaron, saw the kiss and commented on it aloud, but she claimed she brushed his comment off. This kissing incident, with both of them buckled in (with her in the back and Steve in the front passenger seat) is one of the most ridiculous of Hanna’s stories, something I empirically prove to be completely false in the book.
Hanna also told Tom that Aaron witnessed the kiss, and that she had told Ada Dixon about it. She said that Dixon spoke to Aaron, but “he don’t even want to think about it, and he already told Ada, my counselor, that he does not remember anything. And he does not want to know what happened.”
I met Dixon a year before I read her summary, at her office in April 2015. I was hoping to find out if she had actually had spoken to Aaron. She refused to even admit to me that she had been Hanna’s counselor, even though she had testified to that in open court. I told her I had “read all the trial transcripts, so I clearly know who’s who,” and asked her if she could tell me if Hannah was her only patient in the Penderfield family.” I didn’t expect her to reveal anything useful, and she didn’t, citing HIPAA regulations.
She asked me why I was interested in the trial, so I explained that I was thinking of writing a book about it. When she asked my why, I said, “I’m just trying to find out the truth.” Her response was, “The truth was in the courtroom.” I wanted to tell her that Hanna wasn’t the person telling it, but I held my tongue. I had hoped that she would at least admit to me whether she had or hadn’t spoken to Aaron, but she didn’t.
I was surprised to discover, a year later, when I did finally get a copy of Dixon’s summary from the Brown County DA’s Office, that Aaron wasn’t mentioned in it at all. Steve was mentioned, and Steve’s wife, son, and daughter (Robin, Beau, and Marri), and even Deputy George Knox. But Aaron’s name doesn’t appear anywhere in the summary; not in Hanna’s description of the ride to the movie, or in her descriptions of other incidents. Hanna told Tom, and testified in both trials, that she told Dixon about the kiss in the truck, and said that Dixon spoke to Aaron, but Aaron didn’t remember that happening, and he “didn’t want to talk about it.” Even though the ride to the movie is part of the summary, there is no mention of a kiss, or of Aaron witnessing one, or of Dixon asking Aaron about it. Dixon also wasn’t asked during the trials if she had spoken to Aaron.
This left me with even more questions. Lots of them. If Dixon didn’t talk to Aaron, did Hanna make up that part of the story a couple of years later, when she spoke to Tom Swearingen? If Dixon didn’t talk to Aaron, did Hanna lie to Tom, and repeat the same lie in both trials? Did she invent that story to possibly waste the defense’s time and money tracking Aaron down? Did Hanna believe that no one would doubt her because Aaron, who was in Ohio by then, wasn’t there to testify? That also made me wonder why Aaron wasn’t called to testify. Were they afraid of what he might say? Did anyone in the DA’s or the Sheriff’s offices ever interview Aaron? There are no records of either happening in any of the documents the DA’s office let me see. Also, if Dixon did talk to Aaron, why didn’t Dixon include that information in her summary? Or tell the DA about it? If she knew that Aaron was a potential witness, and she had information that he was (whether he claimed to remember it or not), and she didn’t report that to the authorities, was she committing a crime? We already know from Dixon’s testimony in the Munsen trial that she was willing to withhold documents “to keep a defense attorney from working a case.” Is it impossible to believe that she might avoid mentioning a contact with a potential witness to keep the defense from finding out? Regardless, if one story is true the others aren’t. I believe that someone lied, but who was it?
The Ride Home from the Rodeo: The other item which ended up being a factor in the trials, but wasn’t in Dixon’s summary, was a ride home from a rodeo that Steve gave Hanna and Rhonda Bresnick in July 2003. I think the ride isn’t mentioned in the summary because Rhonda didn’t enter the picture until nearly eight months after Dixon submitted her summary to the court. After being asked by Hanna’s mother, in August 2005, Rhonda produced an oddly-punctuated and peculiarly-worded typewritten note about the ride home. This note, which was fairly benign, was used by the prosecution to develop a scenario (based on testimony from Hanna and Rhonda) which tried to make the ride home seem like a debauched descent into depravity. The ride suddenly became a major part of the trials even though it wasn’t included in any of the counts against Steve. I cover the note and the ride home thoroughly in Aggravated, of course, but here’s a quick overview.
By summer 2005, the trial had been postponed numerous times. It was originally scheduled for May 2005, then it was going to be in June, then July, then August, then September. The newest “evidence” after the affidavit happened in September 2004 when Deputy George Knox finally got around to interviewing Tiffany Sperger, a former friend of Marri’s, who spread a false rumor to discredit Marri. I won’t get into that here, but it was a specious rumor that even Hanna later said didn’t happen. The prosecution really didn’t have a case at that point, which might account for all of the trial rescheduling. Then Hanna’s mother faxed a copy of the note to the DA, and they apparently seized on that as enough evidence to move forward with the trial.
The ride home wasn’t mentioned in the affidavit or in Dixon’s summary (both in mid-2004). In 2006, nine months after Rhonda produced the note, Hanna told Tom Swearingen that she masturbated Steve during the drive home from the rodeo, with Rhonda sitting beside her, in a very tiny pickup. She repeated that story in her testimony for both trials, but added additional incidents that she said happened after they dropped Rhonda off. She didn’t say anything to Tom about any further incidents that night, but by the time of the first trial, a couple of months later, she had added parking by the side of the road for some oral sex to her repertoire. Her stories changed nearly every time she told them, sometimes in minor ways, sometimes substantially. It’s worth noting that Rhonda testified that she didn’t see anything happening between Steve and Hanna, even though she was sitting right next to Hanna, less than two feet away from Steve.
Neither of these incidents were mentioned in Dixon’s summary, or in the affidavit (which was the source for the counts against Steve), but as much time, or possibly even more, was spent on them in the trials as on any of the counts. I have all sorts of misgivings about the note, especially since Hanna, her mother, and Rhonda all characterized the note as having been written shortly after the 2003 rodeo, but Rhonda under questioning by the DA, said she decided to write the note after Hanna told her and some friends at a sleepover in 2004 (after the charges had been filed), that Hanna told them she had unwillingly lost her virginity. How could she have written the note in 2003 if she didn’t think about writing it until 2004 (or, in my opinion, until 2005 when Hanna’s mom asked her for it).
In the next three posts we’ll look at the book that Dixon said she gives to all of her “victims,” and try to determine if it (a sort of self-help/psychological advice book) is actually science or religion, whether it has a gender bias, and whether it could have been a handy guide for Hanna to use in trying to convince a jury that she had been molested when she actually hadn’t.
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