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Witnesses testify against man accused of sexually assaulting girl, 4

Friday, February 14, 2014 | 6:18 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Boone County Circuit Judge Jodie Asel listened to testimony from two witnesses Friday to decide whether to allow their statements to be heard by a jury in the pending trial of a man accused of sexually abusing a child.

Boone County Assistant Prosecutor Tracy Gonzalez called the child's mother, whose name the Missourian is withholding to protect the child's identity, and Ashton Eibel, a forensic interviewer from Rainbow House, to testify at a Chapter 491 hearing in a case against Jeremy J. Jennings, 35, of Hallsville.

A Chapter 491 hearing is an admissibility hearing where the court determines the reliability and trustworthiness of witnesses' statements. Based on the court's ruling, the testimony might be allowed in the jury trial.

Jennings was arrested Aug. 28 on suspicion of sexually assaulting the girl, who was 4. He was charged with two first-degree counts of statutory sodomy of a minor younger than 12.

According to the probable-cause statement in the case, Carly Baker, Jennings' girlfriend, was babysitting the child on the day of the alleged sexual assault. Baker had apparently left the house, and the child was in Jennings' care when the incident occurred, according to the probable-cause statement.

At the hearing, Gonzalez asked the child's mother how she learned of the assault on her daughter. The mother said that her daughter told her about it after she picked her up from Baker's home on May 14, 2013. She called police and reported the incident. 

On cross-examination, David Wallis, Jennings' attorney, asked the mother about her daughter's ability to differentiate the truth from a lie. She replied that she believed her daughter knew the difference and said she teaches all of her children to tell the truth.

The prosecution then called Eibel to the stand. Gonzalez asked her about her training to interview a child. She said she has a master's degree in counseling and has done more than 600 interviews of children, roughly 100 of them with children around age 4.

Wallis focused on her ability to determine whether a child was being truthful. Eibel said she had no training on how to determine whether a child is telling the truth and that she didn't know of any training like it. Eibel told Wallis that in the interview, she asked the child if she promised to tell the truth.

According to Eibel's testimony, the child first said yes but later said that no, she wouldn't tell the truth because she was coloring. After she finished her drawing, the interview resumed, Eibel said. Based on her experience, Eibel said that the child was simply being uncooperative.      

Asel said she would rule at the next hearing, which is scheduled for March 3. The jury trial is scheduled for March 11. She also asked for a bond investigation in response to Wallis' request for a bond reduction.

Jennings pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of passing a bad check in 1999.


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