A 17-year-old girl testified Wednesday that it was at a church camp a couple of years ago that she finally broke her silence about what Daniel Chavez did to her as a young girl.
She had not told anyone about the time when she was in the third or fourth grade and went to Chavez’s home in Oronogo with her father, and Chavez had touched her beneath the blanket she had over her on the couch where they were seated.
That time, she just ran upstairs and grabbed her father’s hand without telling him or anyone else what Chavez had done, she said.
“Because I was scared and I didn’t really know what was happening,” she explained in court Wednesday.
Then there were the times not long after that, when Chavez and his wife and sons were living in a house in Webb City, and she would visit there with her parents, and Chavez would find opportunities to say things to her he should never have said or touch her where he should never have dared, she testified.
Once via a television he showed her a man and woman engaged in sex and told her some day when she was a little older, he would do that with her, and it would be their little secret.
He took her on a motorcycle ride one day and reached back behind him and touched her. Another time, he carried her down to a pond near his home in Webb City and started touching until she kicked out with her legs and forced him to put her down, she recalled.
She described still other times between the years 2012 and 2015 — when she was between 9 and 11 years old — and he had touched her in his detached garage during a family visit and tried to force an oral sex act on her on the porch of his house another night.
Her testimony was visibly difficult for her to provide, and she broke down more than once trying to find words to express her experiences, the most difficult clearly being a time that Chavez had taken her into a bedroom and molested her.
She acknowledged that she never told anyone what he had done until a couple of years ago when she was 15 and attending a church camp where there were speakers who informed the youths there about the perils of sex trafficking and sexual abuse.
“And I realized what had happened to me, and I ran and told my church leader,” the girl testified.
Her disclosures led to an investigation by the Jasper County Sheriff’s Office and Missouri Department of Social Services that turned up four additional victims and culminated in the 12 counts he is facing in the trial that began Tuesday in Jasper County Circuit Court.
The state rested its case Wednesday afternoon after the testimony of the primary victim and two others, ages 19 and 17. Two 27-year-old women had testified the opening day of the trial that Chavez abused them in a similar manner when they were as young as 3 years old in one woman’s case and between the ages of 7 and 9 with the other.
The 19-year-old woman who testified Wednesday told how Chavez touched her inappropriately when she was 4 or 5 years old and that he had shown her pornography on the television at his house and warned her not to tell her mother. The other 17-year-old girl who testified Wednesday told of a touching incident in a bathroom of the defendant’s home.
The defense, which will begin presenting its case when the trial resumes at 9 a.m. Thursday, maintains that the girl’s accounts are fabrications without any corroborating witnesses or physical evidence to back them up.
Defense attorney Mark Hammer focused his cross-examinations Wednesday on apparent inconsistencies in the testimonies of the victims with accounts they had provided in pretrial depositions or during their interviews at the Children’s Center in Joplin.
The primary victim seemed confused at one point as to whether the touching incident beneath the blanket at the Oronogo house was the first instance of the defendant’s abuse. She told Hammer it was not the first time, that the first time had happened at the house in Webb City, which seemed to run contrary to the bulk of her testimony which placed subsequent incidents at the house in Webb City.
Hammer also questioned her testimony regarding the motorcycle ride during which she said she was seated behind Chavez .
“You don’t remember saying previously that you were on the front of the bike?” he asked in reference to her interview at the Children’s Center.
“No,” the girl said.
As to the pornography she testified that Chavez showed her, Hammer wanted to know how she could know at 8 or 9 years old that what she saw the couple engaged in on the television was sexual intercourse and she responded that she had no idea how she knew that but she did.
In his cross-examination of former sheriff’s investigator Paul Ayres, the lead detective in the case, Hammer elicited acknowledgements that no forensic evidence substantiating the girls’ claims had been turned up or corroborating witnesses found.
The defense attorney also indicated during questioning of Ayres that he may be presenting evidence or testimony to show that his client did not even reside at the house in Webb City during the years when the primary victim’s testimony puts him there. He also questioned Ayres extensively about the location of the pond where the girl testified she was molested and its accessibility at that time.