Hanna’s Counselor – Part 7

Parts of this post were used in Aggravated.

Bolstering Truthfulness – Steve’s Trial

I’m not a lawyer, and if I’ve interpreted this incorrectly, someone please tell me, but I believe that a federal rule of evidence (Number 608) precludes a witness (like an expert witness) from being able to say that they know someone is telling the truth unless they have specific direct evidence of that truth. In other words, they can’t just say “I believe them because they told me so, and I know they’re telling the truth.” But during the trials, both Ada Dixon and Blake Goudy (the other expert witness) essentially said that they knew Hanna was telling the truth because she told them so. They cited their many years working with abuse victims to bolster their credibility, but just because they believed Hanna was telling the truth it doesn’t mean she actually was truthful.

Here’s one example from Steve’s second trial.

Elmer Ross, the prosecutor, asked Goudy to tell him how Hanna revealed her abuse after his talk. He said he only spoke to Hanna for about fifteen minutes, long enough for her to tell him that she was being abused by a family friend. After talking with her further, he said she named my brother as her abuser.

When Steve’s attorney, Cleveland Sanford, asked Goudy if he would agree that children do make false allegations, Goudy said that, yes, he had “worked cases where there had been false allegations.” Sanford asked him if he would agree that he was basing his testimony on a lie if Hanna hadn’t been truthful with him. Goudy said, “What I would say is that I do not agree with you and my confidence was high when the child told me this based on…” Sanford objected because he wasn’t answering “yes” or “no.” The judge agreed, and Sanford just moved on, but it’s clear that Goudy was saying that he believed Hanna. When Ross got an opportunity to redirect, he asked Goudy if Hanna had given him any indication that she was making a false allegation. Goudy replied, “My initial read was that the child was being honest with me.”

That was the sum total of responses from Goudy about Sara’s truthfulness. You might think that doesn’t make my point very well. You’re right, it doesn’t, but let’s keep going. Ada Dixon’s truthfulness testimony is next.

Dixon was a witness for the state, so Ross questioned her first. After spending most of his time asking her supposedly hypothetical questions that happened to exactly mirror the accusations against Steve, he closed by asking her “Is there anything in your discussions and experiences with Hanna which lead you to believe that she has not been the victim of child abuse?” Dixon answered, “I know that she has been the victim of child abuse. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind. I know that.”

Cleveland Sanford didn’t object to that statement as speculation, but he did try to get Dixon to admit otherwise. He asked her if she was basing her testimony “on the assumption that the allegations that are relayed to you are true.” She agreed that she was. As Sanford had with Goudy, he then asked Dixon if she would agree her belief was faulty if Hanna had given her false allegations. Instead of answering the question she said, “The allegations are true.” Sanford objected, saying, “That wasn’t my question.” The judge agreed that she wasn’t being responsive and struck the answer. That meant the jury was supposed to disregard her statement, but it’s doubtful that all of them did. Even if some of the jury members avoided considering Dixon’s belief in Hanna’s truthfulness, they were all made aware that Dixon did believe her “victim.”

Whether Dixon’s and Goudy’s statements about Hanna’s truthfulness should have been voiced in Steve’s trial or not, Elmer Ross made full use of them (as well as the statements of other witnesses) in his closing arguments, saying, “Folks, there is no question this happened. Not in the mind of counselors, not in the mind of Blake Goudy, not in the minds of Hanna Penderfield or her mother, nor should it be in yours.” In other words, he pushed the thought that the jury ought to accept Hanna’s words as truth because the other prosecution witnesses also believed her.

Was this standard operating procedure for Ada Dixon? We’ll see in the next post by looking at another trial that she testified in, Gonzo V. Texas.

Michael Sirois

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