Mistrial Reveals Challenges Proving Allegations Beyond a Reasonable Doubt in Child Assault and Indecency Case
SAN ANGELO, TX – After a day of testimony and six hours of deliberation, the jury in the case against Ashton Blake Locke was hopelessly deadlocked.
Locke was on trial for charges of sexual assault of a child and indecency with a child through sexual contact. Locke is alleged to have sexually assaulted a 16-year-old girl and accused of indecency with a child through sexual contact of an 11-year-old girl, sister of the first victim. In this article, the victims will be identified as Victim 1 and Victim 2 to protect the minors’ identity.
During her testimony, Victim 1 told the court that while Locke had been staying at her home for a few days he had assaulted her on two separate occasions. The first assault began when he allegedly came into her bedroom and began touching her genital area, even after she told him to stop.
The defendant then penetrated her sexual organ with his sexual organ. The victim used very graphic language to describe the assault; using the following phrase, “he put his d*** in my p****.” According to Victim 1, the assault occurred when her 11-year-old sister, Victim 2, was sleeping next to her on the bed.
From the testimony provided by the SANE nurse (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner), who performed the exam, and the forensic investigator, who performed a non-leading interview of both victims, Victim 1 always used the same language to describe the assault. Victim 1 appeared to be slow spoken several times during her testimony and did fail to recall certain details but could describe the incident. She also alleged that the next day Locke touched her genitals and breasts over her clothes.
During her testimony Victim 2 told the jury about her experience of being allegedly touched by the defendant. According to her testimony, she was asleep on a couch in the living room when she woke up after feeling like “she was being messed with.” She alleges she felt someone touching her breasts and genital area.
Victim 2 says that when she woke up Locke was laying down on the other couch playing on his phone. The only other person in the room was her grandmother who was asleep on a nearby recliner. She testified she left the room because she felt uncomfortable in his presence.
According to the timeline provided by D.A. Allison Palmer, the events occurred throughout the dates of May 8 – May 11, of 2018. On Thursday, May 10, Victim 1 made her outcry statement to her older sister as the assault had occurred the night before. According to the older sister’s testimony, the victim was upset, crying, and scared after she told them what had happened with Locke. Victim 2 disclosed the alleged incident to her mother and the rest of her family that same night.
The SANE nurse testified that during the examination, that was conducted on Friday, May 11, that she didn’t find abrasions to the genital region or trace DNA evidence. The exam is extremely invasive and requires victims to undergo a general physical, pelvic examination and be photographed extensively.
According to Victim 1, the defendant didn’t wear a condom or ejaculate inside her during the assault. When the defense questioned her, she stated she hadn’t taken a shower since the incident at the time of the exam. But that she went to the bathroom; which could lead to wiping away evidence unintentionally.
The lack of DNA or abrasions during an assault of this nature is not uncommon. The physical evidence in cases of sexual assault is not always as straightforward as it may be in other crimes; lack of evidence doesn't mean the assault didn't actually occur. This leaves the law enforcement and subsequently the jury with the task of deliberating the merit and truthfulness of the victims’ testimony.
Victims 1 and 2 did appear nervous on the stand, but as both attorneys pointed out, testifying in front of 14 strangers (12 jurors and two alternates), the prosecutors, defense attorneys, and the judge can be intimidating. Both witnesses went through extensive questioning by both attorneys.
One of the witnesses who testified was Kerry Hunter, a former friend of Locke who lived in the home of victims at the time of the assault. Hunter testified that he had been with Locke when he found out that police were investigating the assault and that Locke was the suspect. He initially told a Crime Against Children Investigator that Locke was not with him and later drove the defendant to an apartment complex. Hunter is currently dating Locke’s soon-to-be ex-wife.
There was one witness the jury didn’t get to hear from, and her testimony could have been very damning for Locke. A seven-year-old witness was introduced the morning of the trial, outside the presence of the jury, and the defense alleged that they had not been given the proper amount of time to vet the witness.
The child had been on a witness list presented by the State in July of this year, but a change in the type of testimony the child could provide allowed the defense to argue that the law mandated that a witness must be added at least 30 days before the trial. D. A Palmer argued that she became aware that the child was alleging that an act had actually occurred with Locke and not that he only had solicited it, which is the testimony she was supposed to provide the court when her name was added back in July.
After deliberating on Monday afternoon, Judge Goodwin ruled on Tuesday morning that her testimony couldn’t be admitted in the first portion of the trial, due to sufficient time not being provided to the defense as the law mandates. If Locke had been found guilty, she may have been allowed to testify in the punishment phase of the trial.
According to her testimony, the now seven-year-old girl knew Locke personally and had interactions with the defendant over an extended time. During her testimony, she alleged that the defendant had “put his titi in her mouth.” The D.A. asked the young girl when this had happened, and she said when she was in kindergarten.
The child was able to identify on a body diagram where “the titi” was located on a boy but couldn’t really describe what a “titi” was. She told the court that she had told her sister and then her mom what had happened with Locke. She knew where she had been living at the time of the incident, who lived in the house with her, and alleged that it had happened three times. When the defense asked when it happened, she answered last week.
After the witness was not allowed to testify in the guilt/innocence phase of the trial, the State rested. The defense indicated Locke would not be taking the stand and that they had no evidence to present to the jury. During closing arguments, the defense lawyer, Tom Davidson, asked the jury to consider that they didn’t have “clear and convincing evidence” and that the State had not met the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
He asked the jury to consider that Victim 2 had been asleep during the alleged assault and that she had not seen the person who may have touched her inappropriately. He cited the lack of physical evidence and DNA as a major factor where the State didn’t meet the burden of proof. He asked them to consider these items as having reasonable doubts and to analyze the inconsistencies and holes in the witness’s testimonies and return with a verdict of not guilty.
Prosecutor Palmer emphasized to the jury that the girls were obtaining absolutely no benefit from making these accusations, other than simply telling the truth. Victim 1 had endured an invasive exam and had to tell her story to a jury of strangers because she was telling the truth, not because she would gain something from a false testimony and accusation. She asked the jury to have the strength to do their civic duty and find Locke guilty the same way as Victims 1 and 2 had the strength to testify.
Shortly before 11 a.m., the jury was sent from the courtroom to deliberate and by 5 p.m. it became apparent they were deadlocked and could not come to a resolution. The foreman of the jury informed the judge in writing that they were divided 5-against-7 and couldn’t come to a consensus.
Judge Goodwin thanked the jury for their service and for taking their civic duty seriously. He granted the defense’s motion for a mistrial and the court adjourned. The case will remain on the docket and may be retired at a later time.
Unfortunately, with a mistrial, should a new trial go forward, the victims and witnesses will have to undergo the stress of another trial and be forced to relieve their experience one more time.
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