When Brenda Romine testified Tuesday in her own defense against the charge of enabling child sexual abuse, her admission that she didn’t believe a young child’s story, or show compassion for that child, may have been the most destructive piece of evidence.
It was also a key remark repeated Wednesday as Stephens County Assistant District Attorney Carrie Hixon made her closing statement to a panel of 14 jurors, most of whom were women. Two were alternate jurors and were dismissed before the jury exited the courtroom to make its decision.
Hixon reminded the jury that Romine had said when the child told her about being molested, Romine didn’t scoop her up in her arms to comfort her and that Romine didn’t believe the child.
“Instead of taking (the child) and getting the heck out of that home away from this man, she stayed there with the child all weekend,” Hixon said.
Less than a half hour after leaving the courtroom, the jury returned with a guilty verdict and a recommendation that Romine spend one year in the county jail and be issued a $1,000 fine.
Before the jury was dismissed to consider the evidence and guilt, Hixon told them, “This is one of these crazy cases in which you could punish her for anything from a $500 fine to life in prison.”
“The defense wanted you to believe that she was a poor helpless mom, single mom, trying to take care of her children.”
Hixon outlined Romine’s living situation again for the jury, pointing out that Romine was indeed, in charge of her situation, even though the home was not in her name. Hixon told the jury that the man who has been accused of raping a five-year-old girl was a new acquaintance of Romine’s and that other adult witnesses in Romine’s life or living at the home, had testified Tuesday that they barely knew Derrick Weatherly.
During Tuesday’s trial, Romine and other witnesses, Darla Miley and Gary Sprague, had said that two state Department of Human Service workers had visited the home and cautioned Romine about having Weatherly around children. Romine and those others only said that they were told Weatherly had an anger issue and was taking medication. They claimed they didn’t know he was to believed to be a sexual predator, yet two DHS workers took the stand and said they had informed Romine of the terrible problem.
DHS Child Welfare Specialist Level III Jeremy Plumley even described Romine’s reaction.
“She had a flat a-reaction. There was no surprise, she just agreed he shouldn’t be in the home,” Plumley said.
As Romine’s defense attorney, Robin Rochelle, made his closing statement, he said that Romine didn’t create the situation, and even implied that DHS didn’t fulfill its responsibility. Romine sat at the defense table and wiped away her tears as she listened to her attorney.
“I don’t trust DHS, that’s me personally. They placed the public at risk when they released D.J.,” he said. “D.J. created this. You heard the victim, you heard her say she was mad at DJ, I would be too.”
Rochelle implied to the jury that Weatherly was not being held accountable.
“Instead of going gangbuster after D.J., they came after my client,” he said.
Hixon’s rebuttal addressed that issue.
“No doubt, we will prosecute D.J., he will be held accountable for what he did,” she said. “Don’t get shortsighted and think this is the state’s (DHS) fault.”
Weatherly has not been convicted of any crimes of sexual nature in his adult years and his juvenile records are sealed because he spent his childhood, from age 5 to 18, in the custody of state care. He was charged in Stephens County District Court Sept. 17, 2009, with four counts of first degree rape, in relation to Romine’s case and his case is set to come up in November.
Judge Brent Russell told the jurors before dismissing them from their duties that while they can talk about the case, to refrain from using the child victim’s name.
Romine’s sentencing has been set for 4 p.m. Dec. 6. A pre-sentence investigation will be conducted prior to the sentencing. Russell informed her that she would be placed into custody of the Stephens County Sheriff’s department and her bond would be exonerated.
— Toni Hopper is a reporter for The Duncan Banner. She can be reached at 580-255-5354, Ext. 132 or by e-mail at: email@example.com.