By: Patti Weaver
(Stillwater, Okla.) — After listening to hours of extremely disturbing testimony from a young girl this week, a Payne County jury convicted her male relative of sexually abusing her from the age of 4 through the age of 9 in his home in Yale.
It took the jury, which was composed of seven women and five men, only two hours to find 44-year-old Troy Joseph Harrison guilty of child sexual abuse and recommend that he be imprisoned for 25 years.
The girl, who is now 11 and lives in a foster home in another county, was allowed by Payne County Associate District Judge Stephen Kistler to testify from a remote location about her relative’s actions.
Jurors watched and heard the now fifth-grader describe in live testimony transmitted to the courtroom what happened to her for six years, under questioning from lead prosecutor Debra Vincent as well as court-appointed defense attorney Virginia Banks. Jurors also watched two recorded statements from the girl made to forensic interviewer Maria Escobar at a child advocacy center in another county.
Harrison has been in the Payne County Jail for almost two years on $250,000 bail since his arrest by Yale Police Chief Phillip Kelly on June 21, 2019, and remains in custody pending his formal sentencing before the judge on July 6.
Payne County District Attorney Laura Austin Thomas said Thursday, the day after the verdict was returned, “Prosecuting child sex offenders is one of the most important things we do. The cases are complicated and they are very difficult for the victims and their families. We know the trials can be very emotional and disturbing for jurors, as well.
“We appreciate the work of law enforcement and other professionals who assisted us in investigating and presenting this case, leading to a result that we hope will reassure this victim and also make Payne County a safer place for all children.”
An investigation began shortly after the then-9-year-old girl and her 11-year-old brother went to stay with a female relative in another county for the summer, according to court testimony. The children shared a bedroom because the female relative only had a two-bedroom house, she testified.
The female relative called police after she first saw a video on the girl’s tablet of her dancing naked and performing a sexual act — and then a few nights later, she saw the 9-year-old girl get up in the middle of the night and take her nightgown off when the female relative went in the children’s room to check on the girl’s sick brother, according to her testimony.
Under questioning from the lead prosecutor, the girl testified that what happened to her “was disgusting — he told me how to do it…it hurt.” She said she didn’t tell him that “because I didn’t want him to be mad.”
“It happened three or four times a week from (age) 4 to 9. He said never to tell anyone. I was scared to tell anyone until I told my (female relative),” whom she said “I very much trust.” She told the jury, “I thought about telling my best friend’s grandparents. I didn’t think they’d believe me.”
She testified, “I wanted to tell her (female relative) so bad and I finally told her. I told her not to tell anyone, but I realized she had to protect me and my brother.”
She told the jury that she didn’t like what happened to her, but she still loved her male relative and missed him.
“We got put in foster care. Me and my brother are still together until he went to the hospital. I live with my therapeutic foster mom for three or four months,” she testified.
On cross-examination by the defendant’s attorney, she testified, “I did not touch him until he asked me to. He’d get mad if I didn’t. We went to church every Sunday morning and Wednesday night.”
Asked by the prosecutor why she thought her male relative abused her, the 11-year-old girl said she believes “Things had happened in his house, so he did it to other people.”
When she first talked to the forensic interviewer on June 20, 2019, the girl said, “I’m really mad at (my female relative) for taking me here. I never should have told her.”
Asked if she was worried about something, she said her male relative: “He did something bad to me…(he’s) gonna kill me because I told.”
“One time, he threw me up against the wall and choked me. I dropped black paint on the floor — he choked me and hit me. He said he’d sent me to DHS. The only other person who has choked me is my brother. My brother did when I was little the same thing (my male relative) did to me,” she testified.
She said that she learned on Youtube that what happened to her was abuse.
Asked how she felt about it, she said “It felt really disgusting and it hurt. He said not to tell anyone every time he does that to me.”
When she spoke again to the forensic interviewer again on June 25, 2019, she said, “I don’t like it when he (Harrison) walks around the house buck naked.” She said that he had her watch a video “of naked people doing things (he) does to me — they curse a lot in that movie.”
She testified that another relative told her “It was my fault he was put in jail. I started thinking it’s not my fault. I want it to stop. I would say (to him) stop it. He would just ignore it.”
Under questioning from prosecutor Erica Garuccio, Stillwater Police Detective Sherae LeJeune, who was asked by the Yale Police Department to assist in interviewing Harrison, testified that he told her he has a sex doll he keeps under the bed.
Harrison admitted, “I walk around naked. She’s seen me naked just about every day. When we’re camping and stuff, we always take a shower together,” the Stillwater police detective testified he told her. Harrison did not confess to any sexual activity with the girl, she testified.
The only defense witness called to testify described herself as Harrison’s friend and fellow church member.
She said that the girl’s brother “was a lot to handle — he scared me. He was violent — he was threatening suicide.”
Asked about the girl, she said, “She’s really really sweet. She loved books. She was really withdrawn. She was more comfortable with adults than kids.”
Under cross-examination about whether she knew Harrison admitted being naked in front of the children, his fellow church member said, “That’s weird. If I had known those things, I would definitely have said something to Troy about it.”
In her closing argument, Harrison’s defense attorney said, “It’s not illegal to have sex dolls. It’s not illegal to walk around naked.” She emphasized that Harrison had maintained his innocence.
The lead prosecutor reminded the jury that the girl said the things that happened to her were never okay. The girl said “every time they happened, I prayed to the Lord to forgive,” her male relative.