Day Care

Defense wants kids' testimony out in day care sex abuse case

2013-02-12T00:25:00Z 2013-02-21T06:45:30Z Defense wants kids' testimony out in day care sex abuse casePaige Fieldsted - Daily Herald Daily Herald
February 12, 2013 12:25 am  • 

PROVO -- Defense attorneys are trying to convince a judge to exclude testimony from several children who claim to have been abused by Alfredo Vargas at his wife's day care in Lehi.

Fourth District Judge James Taylor said that while he doesn't like to place the burden of proof on the defense team, it is their motion and they must prove that the children's testimony isn't reliable and should be excluded at trial.

Kamala London Newton, a developmental psychologist specializing in children's memory, took the stand on Monday morning. Newton has reviewed all the available transcripts and videos of the interviews done with all the children, police reports, interviews with parents, medical records of some of the children and the transcript from the preliminary hearing. She said she noticed several major changes in testimony from a few of the children. She said the changes weren't minor details but important details like who the abuse happened to and how they learned about the abuse.

She said the number of times a child is interviewed, leading questions and conversations with parents and friends all can impact how a child remembers things. In one instance, one of the children in question was interviewed six times.

"The first formal reports are most reliable," Newton said. "Children often report more later, but it's not always accurate. Interviewers sacrifice quality for quantity."

During cross examination prosecutor Craig Johnson pointed out that with some of the children, their initial claims of abuse came during the first interviews and were not coerced out of them by interviewers.

Newton also said that using dolls and drawings of the human body, a technique that was used to interview children in this case, can influence children's memory because they sometimes don't understand how the dolls or pictures represent themselves.

Newton said based on the evidence she couldn't and wouldn't pass judgment about whether the abuse actually happened.

"I am very concerned about the reliability of some of the testimony," she said.

Vargas's wife, Mabel, and his daughter, Debbie, also took the stand Monday morning. Mabel testified about her trip to Chile and that she had left the day care in the hands of her husband and good friend Nancy Arias while she was gone for more than a month. Arias testified that she never saw Vargas do anything inappropriate with the children.

Debbie, who helps at the day care every day after school, testified that she also never saw her father touch any children inappropriately nor did he touch her. During interviews with some of the accusers they claimed that Debbie had secretly told them about her father abusing her.

"Nothing happened to them, nothing happened to me either, they are lying," Debbie said during Monday's hearing.

The defense also called a private investigator who presented photos of the day care showing that what furniture was in the room was near the walls and that other than the bathroom there would be nowhere for anyone to hide.

"I would have been able to see but nothing happened," Debbie said.

The hearing is scheduled to continue Tuesday and then Taylor will make a decision about whether some of the children's testimony will be admissible at trial.

Vargas is charged with 15 counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a child, all first-degree felonies, for allegedly abusing several children at Little Bears Daycare in Lehi in November and December 2011 while his wife was out of the country. Fifteen other counts were dismissed after a preliminary hearing in July.

Vargas is scheduled to go to trial in March.

-- Paige Fieldsted covers robberies, burglaries, murders and any other crimes and court cases happening in Utah County. Follow Paige on Twitter at @paigefieldsted.
Read more from Paige Fieldsted here.

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