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Wednesday, February 13,2013

Child sex case coming closer to trial

By Jim Phillips

With a trial scheduled in less than two weeks for a Glouster man who's charged with sexually molesting five children, a judge as of Wednesday was still weighing a motion by the Athens County Prosecutor's office to allow the children to give their testimony outside the courtroom, via a video hookup, as well as other important motions.

Thomas E. Shifflet, 76, is charged with rape, gross sexual imposition and sexual imposition – though his attorneys have asked Athens County Common Pleas Judge Michael Ward to split the five-count indictment in two.

That motion is still awaiting a decision, as is the state's request for closed-circuit TV testimony from the alleged victims. The attorneys were scheduled to meet with Ward about the case Wednesday morning, and Athens County assistant prosecutor Rob Driscoll indicated that in his view, a trial is almost certain. The current trial date is Feb. 25.

At a motion hearing Monday, expert witnesses testified that the alleged child victims have expressed fear about being in the same room with Shifflet, and that this could cause them psychological trauma and make them less able to testify.

Tamala Gdowski, a therapist, reported that one girl she has seen professionally becomes "very agitated, very anxious" when Shifflet's name comes up. "It's been consistent; she's been very scared," Gdowski said.

Asked about the child's ability to testify effectively at trial, Gdowski said, "I don't know if that's going to be possible if she's in the same room with him."

Psychologist Mackenzie Peterson said she assessed all five children, and believes that in each case, the child "would experience severe psychological trauma" if required to testify in Shifflet's presence.

In cross-examination, defense attorney John Lavelle cited a report from Peterson in which she said one of the girls had told her of an incident in which she began to cry in the courtroom. Based on court transcripts, however, Lavelle said, at the hearing in question "there's no indication whatsoever that (this child) broke down and started to cry."

"This is how she remembers it," Peterson replied.

"So if the child is lying to you, you take it at face value?" Lavelle asked.

"I don't think it is lying," the psychologist said. "I'm accepting the way she recalls this as her reality."

Shifflet is alleged to have sexually abused five children in 2010 and 2011, whose ages now range from 5 to 14 years old. The abuse allegedly took place at an Athens County daycare center, though authorities say there is no indication of culpability on the part of the center.


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