COLUMBIA — The closing arguments of a jury trial were heard Thursday at the Boone County Courthouse in the case of a man who is accused of sexually abusing two girls. The jury has yet to reach a verdict.
“Oscar Contreras-Cornejo, he did not do anything to (the girls),” defense attorney Sarah Aplin told the jury. The Missourian does not publish the names of sexual abuse victims.
Contreras-Cornejo is on trial for two counts of sodomy, one count of statutory sodomy, one count of statutory rape and two counts of sexual exploitation of a minor.
On Feb. 16, 2014, the two girls had a sleepover after a birthday party.
The first girl testified on Tuesday, that she woke up to a man sexually abusing her buttocks. She testified that he also abused the second girl and took photos of them.
On Wednesday, the prosecution called a former University Hospital nurse, Gina Costanza, who testified that she examined both girls and concluded that both bore indications of sexual abuse. Photographs of Costanza's examination were taken at the hospital.
The testimony of Columbia Police Department Sergeant Jeff Rukstad, who investigated the defendant’s cellphone on which the photos were found, followed Costanza on Wednesday.
Rukstad testified that in one of the photos, a young girl was “standing naked, crying.” He testified that in another photo, “it appeared to be a little girl naked with an adult hand reaching toward her.”
The jury was shown the photos from both Costanza and Rukstad’s testimony.
The trial continued into Thursday with the testimony of Contreras-Cornejo. Two translators helped Contreras-Cornejo communicate with the court.
The sleepover was held at the house where Contreras-Cornejo was living. He testified that after he cleaned up the birthday party mess, he fell asleep with his girlfriend and their baby in bed.
Contreras-Cornejo said his phone was on his chest as he fell asleep. When he woke up the next morning at 5:30 a.m., he said, his phone was on the floor.
Contreras-Cornejo testified that on the morning of Feb. 17, 2014, he made coffee, fed the baby from a bottle, plugged his dying phone into a charger in the living room and set out to melt the ice on his car.
He said that all morning, the girls were stealing his phone to play games. Each time he found his phone missing from the charger, he said he would go retrieve it from the girls and return it to the charger.
Contreras-Cornejo said he found out about the accusations when the mother of one girl called him and said the girls were accusing him of touching them.
He testified that he was angry about the accusations and said he told the second mother to take the girls to the hospital to be examined by medical professionals.
Aplin asked him why he did not leave his house when he found out about the accusations. He said he didn’t leave because the accusations were not true.
Defense witness testimony
Aplin called Matthew Fanetti, a psychology professor at Missouri State University, to the stand to testify. Fanetti spoke of how victims, specifically children, remember their experiences.
"We can contaminate our memories," Fanetti said.
Fanetti testified that human memory is like a box of Lego bricks. Sometimes, he said, we construct houses with pieces that were not part of the original kit.
Shawn Bailes, a criminologist for the Missouri State Highway Patrol crime lab, said he tested the first girl's sexual assault kit.
He testified that inside the box were various swabs from the girl's body and a pair of underwear.
"All swabs were negative. ... Therefore, there was no semen detected," Bailes said.
Ruth Montgomery, another criminologist from the same crime lab, said she tested the second girl's sexual assault kit.
"All of the swabs that I tested were negative. ... Semen was not detected," Montgomery said.
"I'm asking that you look at the evidence and give the verdict 'not guilty' on all charges," Aplin said in her closing argument.
Aplin said everyone who lived in the house with Contreras-Cornejo had access to his phone.
"We do not know who took those photos," Aplin said.
She implored the jury to see the inconsistencies in the stories of the state's witnesses.
"Their stories change in little ways each time they tell it," Aplin said. "We can't trust the Lego box."
During Boone County assistant prosecutor Tracy Gonzalez's closing argument, she again presented to the jury the photos from Costanza's examinations and the images found on the cellphone.
"The physical evidence corroborates what those little girls said,” Gonzalez said.
These two girls were excited about their “sleepover until that man put a whole new meaning behind it,” Gonzalez said.
The jury will continue deliberating at 8 a.m. Friday at the Boone County Courthouse.
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