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Man convicted of molestation was denied fair trial

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A Greene County man convicted of Class A felony child molesting is entitled to a new trial because extensive hearsay and vouching testimony was admitted in error, the Court of Appeals held Wednesday.

In Jerry L. Kindred v. State of Indiana, 28A01-1202-PC-50, Jerry Kindred appealed the denial of his request for post-conviction relief and reinstated his direct appeal to the felony conviction. Kindred was convicted of molesting his girlfriend’s granddaughter while they slept in the same bed.

Don Fish, a caseworker for Green County Child Protective Services, and Julie Martin, a sex-crimes investigator employed by the Green County Prosecutor’s Office, interviewed A.G. about her allegations that Kindred placed his finger in her vagina on several occasions. At Kindred’s trial, Martin testified about her role in charging decisions and she and Fish testified regarding what A.G. told them during the forensic interviews.

This testimony was not properly offered as course-of-investigation evidence as the state had argued, Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote. The fact that Martin generally requires corroborating evidence before filing charges is irrelevant. The testimony also contained hearsay.

A.G.’s mother, grandmother, and the grandmother’s ex-husband, as well as Martin and Fish, also testified that A.G. said Kindred molested her. A.G. also testified that Kindred molested her. This was drumbeat evidence, the judges held, pointing to the length of the testimony by Martin and Fish. The jury also heard Kindred’s entire 40-minute interview with investigators at which Fish repeatedly suggested Kindred touched A.G. and A.G. was being truthful.

There was also fundamental error when A.G.’s relatives vouched for A.G.’s credibility. The appellate court extended the decision of Hoglund v. State, N.E.2d 1230 (Ind. 2012), in which the Supreme Court expressly eliminated the vouching-testimony exception in child molesting cases, to also include testimony referencing whether a child was coached.

“We read Hoglund to suggest that testimony about whether a child has been coached amounts to the same improper commentary on the child’s truthfulness as testimony about whether a child is prone to exaggerate or fantasize about sexual matters. We hold that general testimony about the signs of coaching, as well as the presence or absence of those signs in the child victim at issue, preserves the ultimate credibility determination for the jury and therefore does not constitute vouching. By contrast, where a witness opines as to whether the child victim was coached — offering an ultimate opinion, as Fish did here — the witness invades the province of the jury and vouches for the child,” Vaidik wrote.

 Kindred may be retried if the state chooses to do so, the judges ruled after reversing his conviction.

 

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