A woman testified Thursday in Highland County Commons Pleas Court that she was subjected to years of sexual abuse, while the defense challenged her claims with what it said was evidence that contradicted her story.
The testimony was part of the trial of a Hillsboro man facing two counts of child rape. Testimony was set to resume Friday morning.
Vernon Bartsal Ellison Jr., 44, was charged in a March indictment with two counts of first-degree felony rape, and on Thursday jurors heard testimony from both sides in regard to those charges.
As previously reported by The Times-Gazette, the rape charges stem from allegations of years-long sexual abuse brought to the Highland County Sheriff’s Office in early December.
According to an affidavit filed with the Hillsboro Municipal Court in December, the alleged victim told a detective at the sheriff’s office that sexual abuse began when she was a young child and that the abuse continued for years.
Ellison was arrested in December following a recorded meeting between him and the victim wherein Ellison did not deny the sexual abuse claims the victim confronted him with, but was apologetic and offered excuses, according to the affidavit.
On Thursday, state’s witness testimony included that of a forensic interviewer with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and also the testimony of the alleged victim, who divulged the alleged sexual abuse years after it had ended.
The victim’s reason for not coming forward earlier, she said, was because she was scared. She said she also felt ashamed and didn’t want her mother to blame her that the sexual abuse was happening. She testified that she didn’t realize that the abuse was not her fault until she had a child of her own. She said then she knew it wasn’t her fault because there was nothing her child could do to make her hurt him.
The forensic interviewer said that in her experience, a sexual abuse victim waiting a long period of time to tell what had happened was not uncommon, nor were the reasons the victim gave as to why she waited to tell anyone.
In Collins’ opening statement, she said that sexual abuse victims handle their experiences differently, with some blaming themselves, some feeling guilt and shame, and some even protecting their abusers.
Defense attorney Jim Boulger, in his opening statement, told jurors they would have to face an “ugly truth” during the trial. That “ugly truth,” he said, was that Ellison had admitted that consensual sexual intercourse had occurred between him and the alleged victim when she was around the age of 16.
But the alleged victim, who was increasingly emotional during her testimony, testified that the sexual abuse began when she was much younger, with sexual intercourse occurring when she was “11 or 12.”
Boulger asked the victim if she was “in high spirits” the day Ellison was arrested.
“Very,” she said.
Collins asked her why she had felt that way, and she replied that the elation arose from the fact that she thought no one would believe her, but someone did and they were able to get Ellison’s apologies and lack of denial recorded.
“You were happy somebody believed you,” Collins asked.
“Yes,” the victim replied.
Boulger called witnesses who said they have known the victim her whole life and at least two of them gave the opinion that they did not believe her to be truthful.
Boulger also challenged the woman’s story with examples of letters and cards she admitted sending to the defendant over the years, praising him affectionately even after the abuse was allegedly occurring.
The defense attorney also questioned the alleged victim in regard to her own motives, as well as the motives of Ellison’s wife, who is the one the woman told of the alleged sexual abuse before she told anyone else. Ellison’s wife encouraged the alleged victim to go to law enforcement.
According to the alleged victim, the relationship between Ellison and his wife was “rocky.” The defendant’s wife testified that she filed for divorce after she learned of the sexual abuse. There was also testimony in regard to a souring business relationship between the husband and wife.
The state rested on Thursday. Ellison is expected to take the stand first thing Friday morning.
Something jurors did not hear about were 15 other charges that were levied against Ellison in the March indictment, all fourth-degree felony counts of pandering sexually-oriented material involving a minor.
On Wednesday, Ellison signed a document waiving his right to a jury trial on those charges and the matter was set to be heard without a jury by Highland County Common Pleas Court Judge Rocky Coss early Thursday, prior to jurors hearing testimony to the rape charges.
In that hearing, prosecutor Anneka Collins agreed to dismiss the 15 charges, but said she intends to re-indict Ellison on them at a later date.
Reach Angela Shepherd at 937-393-3456, ext. 1681, or on Twitter @wordyshepherd.