By Makisha Singh
The child molestation trial of defendant Manuel Guzman of Winters resumed in Department 4, with expert witnesses called in to testify. First Maria Flores, a child interview specialist from the Multi-Disciplinary Interview Center (MDIC) was called to the witness box. After the judge determined Flores to be qualified for interviewing children, a video recording of Flores interviewing the alleged victim of molestation was played for the jury. In the video, the alleged victim claimed that she had sex with Guzman on one occasion, and that there were many occasions of other inappropriate touching going on between them. However, the alleged victim’s testimony during the interview was brought into question because she stated that she didn’t feel anything when the defendant’s penis allegedly entered her vagina.
After the showing of the video recording, Flores was excused and Dr. William O’Donohue, a psychology professor and practicing clinical psychologist, with a specialty in studying child sexual abuse, was called to the witness stand. Judge Rosenberg determined O’Donohue to be a qualified expert in child sexual abuse, due to his extensive background on the subject. O’Donohue stated that over 50 percent of allegations of sexual abuse in situations dealing with child custody, such as this one, are false. The reasoning for this is because the memories of children are more plastic than adults and they can remember things that didn’t actually happen to them, while believing them to be true. According to O’Donohue, if there are two sexual encounters and there are inconsistencies in the alleged victim’s testimony, it is then known that at least some of the information the alleged victim is providing is actually false.
Defense attorney Steven Sabbadini brought up a phenomenon O’Donohue said is called “negative halo.” This phenomenon is when negative information is given to someone regarding a specific person, and that negative information leads to higher chances of false allegations. Sabbadini brought this up because the alleged victim’s mother had told the alleged victim that the defendant had attempted to sexually abuse an ex-girlfriend’s daughter in the past.
O’Donohue also stated that it is typical for an 11- or 12-year-old, which is how old the alleged victim was during her interview with Flores, not to offer a lot of details about the actual abuse, and that they’re likely to give more information leading up to the actual act, and then following the act. O’Donohue said he believed Flores’s interviewing method was flawed because her questions weren’t open-ended enough, and that Flores was actually supplying some of the information instead of having the alleged victim supply it all. However, after watching the interview, this accusation seemed uncalled for.
O’Donohue stated that it is highly unusual for an 11- or 12-year-old child to develop feelings of love for the abuser. He said kids around that age usually feel negative feelings toward their abusers, such as disgust or hatred, and don’t want to carry on communications with them. This is interesting because the alleged victim did carry on communications with her alleged abuser for an extended period of time. There were over 800 emails exchanged between the two of them.
O’Donohue was asked to come back to court on February 5 at 9:15 AM when the trial was set to resume.
More on Flores Testimony
By Mahanaz Ebadi
The trial resumed with the testimony and cross-examination of Marie Flores. Marie Flores is a child forensic interview specialist. She is currently employed by the District Attorney’s office in Yolo County. She has worked and been employed by the DA’s office for 17 years.
Flores went into depth on what an MDIC (Multi-Disciplinary Interview Center) is and how she conducted the interview with the alleged victim. She also gave the court background information on her credentials and expertise in the field. She has been specially trained to interview children where alleged abuse has occurred, but her emphasis is with sexually abused minors.
When Flores was cross-examined by Guzman’s defense attorneys, they wanted to know why such a procedure is preferred, especially in the case of sexually abused minors. Flores answered the question by stating that the individuals conducting the interview are trained to do an opened-ended interview when there is a sexually abused minor involved.
They do this to use the child’s language throughout the interviews, to have the child as comfortable as possible. Flores informed the court that when talking about the topic of what allegedly occurred in the Winters home, the alleged victim’s demeanor changed completely.
She became very nervous and uncomfortable. Flores reassured the court that this was a typical behavior of a minor that’s been sexually abused.
She informed them that, when a minor has to go into explicit details about the event, especially with a stranger, they become uncomfortable and their behavior changes. The court than introduced the video recording of the interview that Flores conducted with the alleged victim.