LIMA — A young Lima man charged with rape will not have the opportunity to directly face his accuser in court, an Allen County judge ruled Wednesday.
Avery Ward, 21, is scheduled to stand trial beginning May 13 on charges of rape, a first-degree felony, and felonious assault, a felony of the second degree, for allegedly sexually assaulting a young boy on Dec. 5 of last year at a Brower Road apartment. The latter charge alleges that Ward engaged in sexual intercourse with the boy even though he knowingly carries a virus that causes AIDS.
Complicating matters leading up to trial is the fact that the alleged victim in the case is 9 years old and, as such, is entitled to certain legal protections under the law.
A two-pronged hearing was held Wednesday in Allen County Common Pleas Court to determine the boy’s competency to take the witness stand at trial, as well as to assess the potential of serious emotional trauma should the boy be be required to testify in Avery’s presence.
The competency portion of Wednesday’s hearing was held outside the view of the public and media.
Testimony was presented from three social workers and sexual abuse counselors Wednesday, all of whom voiced the opinion that the boy stands to suffer serious emotional and psychological damage if required to testify in a courtroom in which Avery was present.
Taking the witness stand were Ashlen Glenn, a counselor with Westwood Behavioral Health in Van Wert; Nichole Mikesell, an investigator with the Allen County Children Services office; and Stacie Powell, a Children Services case worker.
All three have met with the alleged victim in recent weeks. Powell testified the boy becomes “terrified” whenever court is mentioned, and Mikesell testified the boy is “very afraid” of Avery.
“In my opinion it would be very detrimental to the victim’s mental health” should he be made to testify in Avery’s presence, Mikesell said.
Assistant Allen County Prosecuting Attorney Randall Basinger asked Judge Terri Kohlrieser to allow either a videotaped deposition of the boy or that an off-site video-conferencing connection be established to keep the parties separated during trial testimony.
Defense Attorney Steve Chamberlain maintained the state had failed to meet its burden of proof that causing the young boy to testify in the courtroom would lead to the level of trauma as required in state statutes to prevent such direct testimony.
Kohlrieser said there was “sufficient reason to believe the child could suffer serious emotional trauma” if required to testify in a courtroom setting.
According to court documents, on the evening of Dec. 5 of last year police received a call from a female in reference to her 9-year-old son being sexually assaulted by a 21-year-old male at a Brower Road apartment.
Police went to Ward’s residence and questioned him about the incident and the 21-year-old was taken into custody for suspicion of rape.
Court records show that Ward, after being advised of his right to remain silent, admitted having anal sex with the young boy.
Ward faces the possibility of life in prison if convicted on both charges.