Convicted molester loses appeal over barred internet search history

A man convicted and sentenced to 40 years in prison for molesting his 11-year-old daughter failed to convince the Indiana Court of Appeals that evidence of sexual internet searches he attributed to the victim was wrongly excluded from his trial.

Jessie L. Watson lost that argument, as well as his claim that testimony of experts who examined his daughter was impermissible vouching or bolstering. The COA upheld Watson’s conviction and 40-year sentence in Jessie L. Watson v. State of Indiana, 18A-CR-02984.

According to the record, after Watson and his ex-wife Mary — the victim’s stepmother — separated in 2016, the daughter continued to live with Watson but still regularly visited and communicated with Mary. On one of those visits, the daughter told Mary that Watson on multiple occasions had instructed her to disrobe, wrap herself in a towel, wear a sleep mask over her eyes and wait for a “visitor” who would place something “kind of floppy” on her face that eventually entered her mouth.

The final time this happened, the daughter had adjusted the sleep mask so she could see the visitor was Watson. Based on her testimony and that of a nurse and forensic interviewer who examined her, an Allen Superior jury convicted Watson of one count each of Level 4 felony child molesting and incest, sentencing him to 40 years in prison.

The COA first rejected Watson’s argument on appeal that the trial court improperly excluded evidence of sexual internet searches that would have proven his theory that the claims were fabricated under the “sexual innocence inference theory.”

But the trial court properly excluded that evidence for several reasons, Judge Robert Altice wrote for the panel. “Watson failed to establish who conducted the internet searches on the tablet. This fact alone justified the exclusion of the evidence, as it was mere speculation that (the victim) possessed the tablet when the searches were conducted. Thus, we cannot say that the evidence was relevant or that its probative value outweighed its prejudicial effect.”

Likewise, the appellate panel affirmed the admission of testimony of forensic examiner Sara Drury and nurse Leslie Cook from the Bill Lewis Center for Children in Fort Wayne. “We also reject Watson’s contention that (the victim’s) testimony had the effect of bolstering and vouching for Cook and Drury’s testimony.  Both witnesses recounted the statements … made to them during their testimony.  And neither testified about (the victim’s) honesty or her propensity to tell the truth. In short, Watson has failed to establish fundamental error.”

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