No verdict in counselor sex assault trial |

No verdict in counselor sex assault trial

Pete FowlerGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. Jurors did not reach a verdict in Emily Griffith Center child care counselor Charalene Bera’s trial for alleged sexual assault on three teenage boys, after deliberating for hours Monday night and most of the day Tuesday. Instead, jurors are asked to put all prior deliberations out of their minds and begin again from scratch with an alternate juror, after one juror was removed because someone in the audience told the District Attorney’s office that the juror had some connection with a sex offense or sex offender. The alternate juror arrived from Battlement Mesa around 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.”This has been long … arduous … difficult … and I’m very sorry that it has come to this,” Judge Daniel Petre said, adding that it was the only option to ensure a fair trial.Bera faces four charges of sexual assault on a child by a person in a position of trust, two charges of sexual assault on a child while victim is in custody, and one charge of unlawful sexual contact on a victim who is in custody.The five-day trial that started last Monday had originally been set for three days.Defense attorney Joseph Olt made his second motion for a mistrial. He said the DA’s office “dug up” information on someone who was said to be a problem juror causing the jury to hang. Olt called the situation “a travesty of justice.” His first call for a mistrial last week involved a Department of Human Services report that concluded the allegations were credible. The prosecution inadvertently failed to provide the report to the defense due to a “clerical error.””This accusation is blatantly false,” Assistant District Attorney Jeff Cheney said. “He knows he has no basis to accuse the DA’s office of digging up dirt on a juror.”Judge Petre didn’t accept Olt’s assertion, saying no one could have known who the juror was. He denied Olt’s motion for a mistrial. Two jurors appeared to have been crying when they came back into the courtroom Tuesday night.On Monday, Bera, 28, took the witness stand from roughly 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., giving defense attorney Joseph Olt a chance to elicit her side of the story: that the teenage boys’ accusations of sexual contact were falsified to get back at her because she reported them for violating rules at the center.”They said that they would get even,” Bera said.She said she was kidnapped by one boy who had escaped from the center. She never gave him directions to her house, as the boy alleged, and he told her he had a knife and drove her to Delta on the way to Cortez. She was up early when he arrived in the morning, preparing for a family party for “the big race – the NASCAR race,” Bera said.”He told me I was leaving with him,” she said. “He told me he had a knife. I was scared.” The two were arrested in Delta after a supervisor from the Emily Griffith Center followed their trail using tips from the boy’s mother, received via cell phone. Bera admitted being charged with aiding the escape of a felon and pleading guilty to a lesser charge of aiding and abetting. The boy was prosecuted for escape and sent to a more restrictive juvenile detention center.The three boys who were legally required to be at the Emily Griffith Center, ages 15, 17 and 17 at the time, said they each had sexual contact with her early last year.Olt argued that law enforcement “charged ahead” with the investigation without adequately checking to see if the boys’ allegations were true.”There is no evidence in this case except the three juveniles,” Olt said. “You have been given the biggest red herring I have ever seen in my life. … Is it a story these boys made up to pay her back?”He attacked inconsistencies in the chronology of the allegations and timesheets indicating when Bera worked. The boys’ characters were not spared. The boys were at the facility for offenses like burglary, assault on a peace officer and cocaine use, he said. Olt described how they initially denied the allegations and how the full story didn’t come out until almost half a year after it was said to have happened, suggesting the boys concocted the story together. Olt ripped into another employee of the center who testified she saw Bera come out of a room hurriedly adjusting her clothing and hair. He said the alleged love letters one boy wrote to Bera were never found. A rope used in an escape was never found, he added. Olt also objected to the court’s “unreal time constraints while allowing the prosecution to ramble on and on.””There’s enough reasonable doubt here to choke a horse,” he said. Cheney at one point called the defense “a parade of lies.”In a lengthy and dramatic closing statement Monday, Cheney pointed at Bera about 20 separate times while emphasizing the words “the defendant.””Do you care about children? Because the defense doesn’t want you to,” he said.He pointed out inconsistent statements between Bera’s testimony and a Delta police report. She first told police she was in Delta to visit a sick aunt, but never provided a name, address or phone number, later changing that story to being kidnapped. He said she never saw the knife, and that it was never found. He said Bera never mentioned either the knife or the supposed kidnapping to police until long after it happened. If she was so afraid, why wouldn’t Bera just drive off when she was in the car and the boy was inside a Subway restaurant or a friend’s house that they visited?During interviews with law enforcement, Bera and Olt at first said they didn’t know what any of the allegations were about, Cheney said. But asked about the evidence which condemned her, it was clear they knew exactly what the allegations were about, he argued.It’s just not reasonable to believe that three boys, two of whom hate each other, contrived this story and brought in the other employee to corroborate it, Cheney said.There was hope that a verdict might be reached late last night or early today.Contact Pete Fowler: 945-8515, ext. 16611pfowler@postindependent.comPost Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO

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