Mistrial in case alleging sexual abuse of a minor
Defendant rejected partial verdict, new trial scheduled
After about seven hours of deliberation, a jury tri- al for a man accused of sexually abusing an underaged girl under his care ended in a mistrial during the early morning hours Wednesday.
The jurors still remained deadlocked at 12:30 a.m. when a mistrial was declared after the defendant, Donald McCoy Stancell, 38, of New Car- rollton opted to reject a partial verdict, according to the state’s attorneys of- fice. Charged with counts of sexual abuse of a minor and third-degree sex of- fense, Stancell has been scheduled to stand trial again in March.
With Administrative Judge Amy Bragunier of the Charles County Cir- cuit Court presiding, the trial began on Monday as assistant state’s attor- neys Sarah Freeman and Katrine Bakhtiary presented their case against Stancell, who is accused of sexually abusing a mi- nor under his supervision for multiple years until she reported the abuse to school officials and police in November 2015.
The alleged victim, now 18, testified that the abuse began when she was about 14 years old and escalated over time, ac- cording to court proceedings. She said she would have sex with Stancell in exchange for various gifts and privileges, and esti- mated that they have had sex more than 50 times and described several locations, including dif- ferent rooms at a shared residence and Stancell’s vehicle. The girl also described what Stancell looked like naked, and jurors were given pictures to review.
On Nov. 6, 2015, the girl reported the abuse to school officials, prompting detectives from the Charles County Sheriff’s Office to begin an inves- tigation, according to proceedings. Though the alleged victim initially reported that Stancell had beaten her and given her bruises on her legs, she then revealed that that was a lie and that Stancell had actually been sexually abusing her for years. She told investigators that she last had sex with Stancell two days prior. Among some of the evidence col- lected by investigators was a sexual assault nurse examination kit, bedding, towels, recently worn un- derwear, a desensitizer spray and DNA swabs taken from Stancell and the girl’s boyfriend.
The girl’s mother took the stand and testified that Stancell made what seemed like admissions of guilt to her through innuendos used throughout a series of conversations following Nov. 6, 2015. The mother testified that Stancell would “just talk in circles” and said that “he found God, and that God had forgiven him,” that he was the adult and “should have known better.”
On several occasions she said he told her, “there’s more to the story than what you’re hearing” and that “she set me up.”
Also called to testify was Julie Kempton, a forensic scientist at the Maryland State Police crime lab. She testified that in testing a stain found on a red pair of underwear and isolating the male DNA, she determined there had been one major contributor and at least one minor contributor. The process, called Y-STR testing, or short tandem repeat on the Y-chromosome, revealed that Stancell’s known DNA profile was consistent with the major contributor profile found on the underwear; therefore, he “cannot be excluded.”
Responding to ques- tions posed by Freeman, Kempton explained that with Y-STR testing, any male of the same paternal line would have the same DNA profile, and since that profile is not unique to any one person, it is im- proper to say it “matched” Stancell’s known DNA profile, though he could not be excluded.
During cross-examination by defense attorney Thomas Mooney, Kempton explained that over 99 percent of the DNA found on the underwear was female DNA, and only about .1 percent was male. Mooney also asked questions about the pos- sibility of cross-contami- nation, in what appeared to be an attempt to cast doubt on the reliability of the test.
Det. Kristen Gross, the lead detective, was called to testify, and she explained how the inves- tigation unfolded. Gross testified that the girl had first said the bruises on her legs were from Stan- cell, but then told her that it was really from hitting them against a bookshelf, once the detective had es- tablished a rapport with her. She explained that it was not unusual for victims of sexual abuse to change their story once they feel comfortable with the interviewer.
After the state rested, the defense rested as well without calling a single witness. Stancell declined his opportunity to testify.
“She knew things and described things [a young girl] should not know about [Stancell],” Freeman told the jury in closing arguments. “… she described it in detail.”
“His DNA is in the crotch of her underwear,” she continued. “The same underwear she wore after the last sexual encounter.”
Mooney argued that the allegations were fabricated, emphasizing the inconsistency of the initial reporting of the bruises and the inconclusiveness of the DNA tests.
“[She] made a claim, initially to her friend, that Donald had assaulted her and bruised her,” he said. “Shortly thereafter, [she] changes her story … she has had issues in the past, to put it lightly,” pointing out that her mother testified that in the past she had been willing to consent to emancipation due to behavioral problems and because the girl frequently ran away from home.
Mooney called the DNA testings an “ever-so-sensi- tive process” and argued that cross-contamina- tion is “not far-fetched.” He also pointed out that Stancell had two biological sons who lived in the home whose DNA profile would have been consistent with the Y-STR testing results as well.
Freeman responded by saying there is “no conceivable way” the DNA evidence found on the underwear came from the sons, who were 7 and 9 years old at the time.
In reference to the alleged victim’s initial report about the bruising, Freeman referred to Gross’ testimony about how often sexual abuse victims do not fully disclose until they feel comfortable with the interviewer. “All the different outcries, and she never felt safe until she talked to Detective Gross,” she said.
The jury began deliberations around 5 p.m. Tuesday, and returned after midnight with only a partial verdict. Rather than accepting a partial verdict with no way of knowing what criminal counts the jurors could agree on, or whether they found him innocent or guilty of any of the counts, Stancell opted for mistrial.
A new trial has been scheduled for March 21.