Five Questions – Part 1

Parts of this post were used in Aggravated. This one and the four posts that follow it were part of a chapter in Aggravated, called The Night of the Rodeo. In that chapter I answered and/or explained the first five questions and items (out of thirteen) in just a few paragraphs. The other eight required more detail. These five posts are simply a more detailed breakdown of the reasoning behind those first five answers and explanations. If you’ve already read the book you can just skip these posts unless you want the extra detail.

When Was the Rodeo?

Why is This Question Important? Hanna was amazingly evasive when she needed to be, and astoundingly specific at other times (specific, but not necessarily accurate). When she talked about the rodeo the result was usually an incoherent mess, so part of your mission (if you choose to accept it) will be to decide when you think she was lying, when she was just pulling facts out of the ether, and when she was being truthful. The only way to do that is to look at everything, and use logic and data to sort truth from fiction.

In 2006, Tom Swearingen asked Hanna, “What happened with Rhonda?” After pausing, Hanna said, “We went to the Deep Springs Rodeo a couple of years ago.”

[Tom didn’t ask her what year the rodeo was, but “a couple of years” before the interview would have been May of 2004, after Hanna made her accusation. That date is an impossibility, of course. Any ride Steve gave them had to be before the accusations. Was Hanna lying to Tom, or chronologically unconscious, or just trying to get Tom to feed more false information to Steve’s lawyer?]

In Trial #1, Elmer Ross asked Hanna about that night.  She said, “We had gone to the Deep Springs Rodeo. And I believe that was in 2003. I want to say.”

[Eight weeks after Tom’s interview, Hanna said the rodeo was in 2003. Had she always known the rodeo was then, and was just toying with Tom?]

Also, in Trial #1, Steve’s lawyer, Bevin Jenkins, asked Hanna how much time passed between seeing Harry Potter and the rodeo. Hanna said, “For me, the years ’03 and ’04 are extremely mixed up. Because those were nearly two full years of this happening. And I don’t remember what year the rodeo was. It must have been ’03. That is my best guess.” Jenkins asked if she meant the rodeo was a year-and-a-half, two years after Harry Potter. Hanna said, “About a year-and-a-half maybe.”

[A year-and-a-half after November 2001 would be about right (the summer of 2003), but her comment that 2003 and 2004 “were nearly two full years of this happening” is way off. If the molestation ended in mid-February 2004, how could she claim 2004 was a nearly-full year of molestation? She and Elmer Ross both seemed to be fast and loose with time during the trials.]

In Trial #1, Ross asked Rhonda if, in 2003, she had an opportunity to go to the Deep Springs Rodeo with Hanna. Rhonda said, “Yes.” He asked her what time of year it was, and she answered, “It was early summer. May, I think.” He then asked what time of day it finished. Rhonda said, “It was 10:30 or 11:00 at night.” He asked, “So, it was dark outside?” Rhonda said, “Yes.

[Ross steered Rhonda to the right year without giving her a chance to waffle, but is May in the summer? Their dates were still all over the place, but “10:30 or 11:00” is definitely nighttime,]

During the Trial #2 jury voir dire, Ross told the panel that, in 2003, Hanna had received a couple of tickets to go to the Ashwell County Rodeo, and Rhonda went with her.

[After Trial #1’s confusing testimony, was Ross trying to do advance damage control?]

Once Hanna took the stand in Trial #2, Ross asked her if she remembered going to the rodeo with a friend of hers. She said, “Yes, sir. I do.” He asked her if she remembered what year it was, and she said, “No, I don’t. My best guess would be 14 [her age in 2003, not the date]. It was more of a recent event. It was closer to the ending time [of the molestation]. Ross gave her a hint. “Sometime 2004, or maybe 2003?” She said, “Yes.”

[So they were back to 2004, or maybe 2003. Why were they so vague with the date?]

Continuing his questioning, Ross asked Hanna how long they were at the rodeo. Hanna said, “The entire time.” Trying again, he asked if it was daytime or nighttime. She said, “Nighttime.” He asked her what time they left, and she answered, “If I remember correctly, it was about 10:30, 11:00.” Just to make sure everybody on the jury got it, he asked, “At night?” and followed that with, “So, it was dark?” Hanna said, “Yes” to both questions.

[“…dark,” around “10:30 or 11:00,” but he still didn’t pin down a year. Compare Hanna’s time (which matched Rhonda’s Trial #1 time) with what Rhonda said in Trial #2, just below.]

Ross began by feeding Rhonda most of the answer. “At some point in the year 2003, did you have an opportunity to go with Hanna to an event out at the rodeo?” She said, “Yes.” He asked her how she and Hanna ended up going. Rhonda said, “She had got free tickets from someone and she invited me to go with her.” He asked, “And did anyone else go besides you and Hanna?” Rhonda said, “No.” He didn’t ask Rhonda when they left the rodeo, but he asked her when they stopped at a water tower on their way home. She said, “It was night around 12:00 or 12:30.”

[Notice that Ross again, fed her the year and the place. Was he worried about her contradicting Hanna? Rhonda also changed her mind about the time, adding 60 to 90 minutes to her previous time. After midnight is, considerably later than the “10:30, 11:00” that both she and Hanna previously claimed. Hanna did the same thing in her description of seeing Harry Potter, saying that it ended at 1:00 am, and then 1:30, and then 2:00? Why would Rhonda make the same kind of leap in time about the rodeo?]

Let’s hear from some Deep Springs residents. In January 2016, on some local social media pages, I asked what time of night the Ashwell County Rodeo was usually over. Ruby Wagoner said, “I would say on average, about 10p-11p or so,” Kyle Skinner said, “Yeah, generally around 10:30,” and Weldon Reed said, “The main performance is normally over around 10:15.”

[This is in general agreement with Hanna’s “about 10:30, 11:00” statement, but falls way short of Rhonda’s midnight or 12:30. It has always seemed to me as if Hanna and her friends were massively time/date challenged. When I did find specific dates or times in their statements; they were almost always inaccurate.]

Analysis: The first hint about the date of the rodeo was in Hanna’s 2006 interview with Tom. She told him that she and Rhonda went to the rodeo “a couple of years ago,” which would have been in 2004.  In both trials, Hanna and Rhonda skirted around the issue, and never satisfactorily established a year or month, guessing at years between 2002 and 2004, and months as early as May and as late as “fall.” As far as what time it ended, Hanna said it was “about 10:30, 11:00” at night, but Rhonda said it was “around 12:00 or 12:30.” Steve had always said it was in the summer of 2003 because he was still working for the city, and he left that job in September 2003 to work for the state park. That’s important for a reason we’ll cover in the post, About the Tower.

Some local residents said that the rodeo usually did end around 10:30 to 11:00, but the month and date still hadn’t been provided by either Hanna or Rhonda, so I contacted the Ashwell County Fair Association, and they told me that the 2003 rodeo was July 24-26 (a Thursday, Friday, and Saturday).

 Conclusion: Hanna and Rhonda probably went to see the rodeo on a Friday, because Steve and Robin visited her sister after work in separate vehicles. Read the next post to see why it wouldn’t have been on Thursday or Saturday. So, they went on Friday, July 25, 2003, and it ended at roughly 10:30 pm, but why did they have so much difficulty establishing that during the trials?

Michael Sirois

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