Friday, March 5, 2010

Custodial dad, uncle facing 1st-degree child abuse and torture charges involving 7-year-old boy (Harrison, Michigan)

I still remember this case from when it first broke in October 2008. These sickos--dad GERALD HALL and his brother--were accused of using a BLOW TORCH on a now 7-year-old boy. But only now do I learn that this sicko dad had CUSTODY. How did that happen, Michigan? Any judge want to own up to it? Didn't think so.

Unfortunately, it appears that perfectly normal and understandable memory lapses, especially in a traumatized child, have lead to a hung jury.

7-year-old boy attempted to testify in case against father and uncle
By Cindy Cranmer on Mar 5, 2010 in Clare County-wide, Crime, Featured

HARRISON – Despite efforts to make the courtroom more comfortable to testify in for the now 7-year-old boy who has a father and uncle accused of abuse against him, the boy was not able to testify due to memory lapses.

Norm Gage, prosecutor on case that ended in hung jury

After the efforts Friday evening to solicit testimony in a courtroom closed to all but the jury, attorneys and court personnel did not work out, 55th Circuit Court Judge Roy Mienk had the preliminary examination put on record. The preliminary examination also had been closed during the boy’s testimony due to his age.

The courtroom was closed for more than an hour while the attorneys attempted to solicit information on the facts of the case from the child.

Gerald Hall, the father of the boy, and Glen Hall, his uncle, are facing charges of first-degree child abuse and torture in connection with an incident alleged to have happened around Oct. 10, 2008.

Gerald Hall, 37, and Glen Hall, 47, are being charged with child abuse for allegedly causing second- and third-degree burns to a then-six-year-old. The first-degree child abuse is a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Glen Hall’s attorney, Dwight Carpenter, needed was to be off for medical reasons after Monday so the desire was to get all testimony and closing arguments in before he had to leave. Gerald Hall was represented by Todd Diederich, who is a partner in the law firm of Dreyer, Hovey & Diederich, LLP.

Norm Gage, Gladwin County assistant prosecutor, was the primary prosecutor on the case with Gladwin County Prosecutor Aaron Miller also in the courtroom as the specially appointed prosecutor on the case. Clare County Prosecutor Michelle Ambrozaitis removed herself and her office from prosecuting the case due to a conflict when she was in private practice.

The boy, who had just completed first grade at the time of the preliminary examination on June 16, 2009, said he had accidentally defecated in his pants and was disciplined outside in connection with the accident.

The boy’s testimony differed than his video testimony as to the color of the lighter that was used and the color of the “tool from the tool shop.”

“It was the same color, but I just didn’t color it in,” the boy said.

“I just draw them different sometimes,” he explained of the differences in pictures he drew for others.

He said his father burnt him using a lighter while his uncle burnt him using the tool that he did not know the name of.

He also was inconsistent as to who he was living with in his testimony. At one point, he said he was living with his father and another time he said his mother. While his mother had visitations, the boy was living with his father in October 2008.

Even at that point, the boy’s memories seemed to be unclear as he did not remember going anywhere on Oct. 10, 2008, with his grandmother or other details of the day. His grandmother testified as to the places she took the boy on Oct. 10.

He also said in that testimony as to why he thought it was better to wait until he got home to tell his mother about being burned.

The boy described his rash as being red in some spots with white in others. He also said some of the problem was caused by feces in his underwear.

The boy also testified that he did not go anywhere with his grandmother, that his stepbrother was not at the residence when the incident happened and other details of the incident.

As part of the preliminary examination in June, two experiments were done. Diederich put together a basket of items that contained the tool from the workshop along with other items.

The boy was not able to identify the tool when going through the basket.

The attorneys also had the boy, who claimed the abuse lasted six minutes, respond when he believed six minutes were up. The time that elapsed was less than 15 seconds.

At one point in the video testimony from the forensic interview, Hall’s son testified he was inside when the incident occurred and that it was 10:15 as he saw a clock. During the preliminary examination, he said he was outside when it was sunny and he was on a green picnic table.

Sgt. Josh Lator, of the Michigan State Police, testified as an expert witness in forensic interviews and as an expert in child abuse and neglect. Lator completed a forensic interview of the boy before he took over handling the case from the Clare County Sheriff’s Department.

Lator explained the protocols for interviewing children. “Every child and every situation is different so you have to maintain flexibility,” Lator said regarding the policies that are used. “It’s all about the child.”

“The child dictates where we go, what we talk about and when we’re done,” he said.

Lator said the interview with Hall’s son was 39 minutes and 15 seconds “give or take.” He said he believed the interview was the end of his involvement in the case until learning otherwise after meeting with the boy. “It was decided that because of the rapport with (the boy at the interview) and that it was in the best interest of justice for me to take the case,” Lator said about the switch in the MSP taking over the investigation. Lator worked out of the Mount Pleasant post until his promotion to sergeant, which means he now works at the Lansing headquarters.
The forensic interview with Hall’s son began after he established some rapport with the child doing a tour of the MSP post and basic information about truth and lies.

Lator then opened asking the boy to describe something “cool or fun” that had recently happened.

The boy lapsed right into talking about the alleged abuse. This was questioned by both of the Hall brothers’ attorneys.

“I got burnt on my arms. I got burn on my butt. I got burnt with a lighter, burnt with a tool I don’t know out of my Dad’s workshop…I got spanked twice.”

The boy testified on the video of the forensic interview that his uncle and father took turns at burning him. He said it was because he went to the bathroom in his pants as a punishment.
Diederich questioned Lator as to why the boy would describe the burns as cool or fun.

Lator said children will want to talk about things if they are comfortable and know they are there for a purpose.

“The protocol says you follow the disclosure,” Lator explained as to why he moved forward instead of going through the suggested steps for a forensic interview.

“You don’t think he could have blurted out details so as not to forget what he was supposed to tell?” Diederich asked.

Describing himself as feeling “mad” and his body as feeling “weak,” the boy explained a tool that was used, what happened when the burning allegedly took place and when it happened during the video.

Lator explained both prior to and after the video that young children often confuse times and days. He said they may say yesterday, but just mean a time that was before that day and not specifically the day prior.

Diederich also questioned why many details were not in the police report related to the forensic interview.

Lator explained the police report summarized the main points, but was not meant to be a transcript of the video. “A report focuses on an alleged or actual abuse disclosure,” Lator said.

When the boy struggled to testify during closed testimony in the courtroom, the records from the preliminary examination in 80th District Court were put on the record. The defense questioned the different details the boy had in his various stories.

These details included things such as the color of the tool from the workshop, how the injuries occurred, the location of where the injuries occurred as he testified at one point that it was inside and another that it was outside, when the injuries occurred and who was there when the injuries occurred.

Carpenter questioned why the stories kept changing about where the abuse occurred. Different stories were presented as to the location of the incident including outside on a green picnic table, inside in the boy’s bedroom and in the tool room.

“With four different places, things being changed, modified or added, did someone consider outside sources that caused him to modify things,” Carpenter questioned.

“We always look at that,” Lator said. “It was at the trial,that I found out about the full history of Diane Stone.”

Lator said he did not see any red flags that the boy was coached on interviewing or that there were any red flags that his mother was the person who abused him.

“We always look for problems in the parent-child relationship,” Lator said. “There was nothing to observe that would send off a red flag…There was nothing to indicate that he had fear of his mother.”