Attorneys in Forde trial question investigator’s techniques

Published 12:14am Friday, February 8, 2013

NATCHEZ — During the second day of trial, James Wesley Forde’s attorneys questioned investigatory techniques while his alleged teen victim testified he at one time believed he was in love with Forde.

The 43-year-old defendant is on trial for six counts of sexual battery for an alleged relationship with a victim who was 15 at the time of the relationship. The sexual encounters reportedly happened at the Natchez Little Theatre, in Forde’s truck, Forde’s business — The Forde Line — and at a residence on North Rankin Street.

Forde was originally indicted on nine counts of sexual battery, but three of the counts were dropped.

Thursday’s proceeding picked up with more testimony from the victim, who is now 17. Defense Attorney Kevin Colbert questioned him about his drug and alcohol use, and asked him if he sent text messages to Forde. The victim said he could not remember the exact content or context of the messages.

Phone records showed that a phone owned by Forde sent 268 messages and four phone calls to a phone on the victim’s family plan from May 2010 to March 2011, Colbert said. The phone on that plan sent 456 text messages to Forde over that same period of time.

When Colbert asked if he ever expressed unhappiness or depression with Forde, the victim responded, “I would say so, because James would text me once in a while, and that really confused me, and I told him that. I was wondering where he was, why he didn’t want to see me anymore.”

Colbert asked the victim if he could be characterized as having stalked Forde.

“I wouldn’t say stalking was the fair word to use,” the victim said. “I was wanting to see him.”

When the defense attorney also asked the victim if he went to Forde’s business uninvited, the victim responded, “He never gave me a formal invitation.”

The victim also denied it when Colbert asked if he had threatened to tell his parents Forde had raped him when Forde told him to stop coming to his business or he would inform the victim’s parents about his continued showing-up at the store.

The victim said he consumed alcohol at Forde’s store nearly every time he went there; Forde had not given it to him, he said, but did allow it. The victim also testified that Forde would bring alcohol to practices at Natchez Little Theatre, where they met, and would allow him to sip from whatever he had brought.

During the relationship, Forde had told him to keep it a secret, the victim said.

“(Forde) said there is a necessity for it to be discreet and to talk to nobody about it,” he said.

One of the counts for which Forde is on trial reportedly happened on Valentine’s Day 2011. When Assistant District Attorney Debra Blackwell asked the victim why he had gone to Forde’s store that day, the victim responded he had because he thought he was in love with Forde.

“He told me he was in love with me, and what is the point of Valentine’s but to be with the one you love?” the victim said. “During the time I was there, he told me, ‘You are my Valentine.’”

Both the prosecution and the defense brought in expert witnesses to discuss the initial forensic interview with the victim at the Natchez Children’s Advocacy Center. Adams County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Robert Brown said such interviews are done to avoid traumatizing children with multiple interviews.

At the CAC, one person interviews victims using non-leading questions while a task force — including law enforcement and prosecutors — watch a video feed in another room. The prosecution’s expert witness — Katherine Dixon, a psychologist whose primary area of expertise is forensic interviewing — said the video of the interview she watched the victim presented as a child who had been abused. Dixon said she found the presentation believable because of his memory and how he would pause to remember details.

“First and foremost, (what stood out was) the amount of detail he was able to describe different places, different situations, context about the different incidents he was describing,” she said.

“It was interesting to me (that his first response) — as with most children I have interviewed — is that their first belief about the abuse was that it was somehow (their) fault. There is some sense of responsibility, not that someone did something to me but that I have participated in a naughty, indecent act. His first responses were very shameful.”

When Colbert asked Dixon if she could tell if the victim was telling the truth, she responded, “It is not my job to say if he was telling the truth, it is my job to say if he presented as a child who has been abused.”

The defense’s expert witness — Julie Teater, also a psychologist who conducts forensic interviews — said she believes the forensic interview was one of the best she has seen in the state.

But it’s possible for victims to make mistakes or misattribute facts, she said.

“People, we are not good at recording traumatic events that are happening,” she said.

Teater also said it’s possible someone could lie in a forensic interview.

“We lie just to make ourselves feel good sometimes,” Teater said. “We lie to get out of trouble, sometimes children do tell lies that get them into trouble even though that is not their intent. They are trying to get out of one process and they get into another.”

When Brown took the stand, he said after Forde’s initial arrest, Forde said he only had contact with the victim four times — twice at Natchez Little Theatre and twice at his shop — and that none of those times was sexual in nature and that they had never been alone together. In one instance, Brown said, Forde told him that the victim had gone by Forde’s shop when he wasn’t there and a friend had text messaged Forde, “Won’t you come get your little puppy?”

Brown said when he started investigating the matter, he found details in the Rankin Street house and in Forde’s business consistent with details the victim had given him. In particular, a shower in the house stood out to Brown.

“If he had never been in that house, how could he have known about that shower?” Brown said. “You can’t see it from the outside. You have to go into the house, into a room and then into another room to get into that step-down shower.”

Defense Attorney Rusty Jenkins disagreed that details of the residence could not be ascertained from the outside, and showed how pictures of the interior had been posted on the Internet by a local Realtor.

Brown testified that while serving a warrant at the locations where the alleged sexual acts occurred, he was searching for a black bag the victim had spoken of that contained Astroglide lubricant, a towel and alcohol. The investigator said he also searched for pornography.

Brown said he found a black bag, some “lube in a tube,” and two cell phones that belonged to Forde. When Jenkins asked to see the lube, Brown produced it from the bag.

The tube said it was Jack Black Cool Moisture body lotion.

“That’s not really what we call lube,” Jenkins said. “It is hand lotion.”

Also in question was a pair of underwear Brown confiscated from Forde — it was in fact the underwear Forde was wearing the day he was arrested.

The detective said he had done that because the victim had specified that Forde wore Papi brand underwear. Jenkins pointed out that the confiscated underwear was Saxx brand.

“When I interrogated him (about the Papi underwear), (Forde) said, ‘I have them on, so I took those,’” Brown said. “He said those were Papi.”

Jenkins also questioned why the detective didn’t fingerprint a piece of furniture — a distinctive-looking armoire with random objects including a praying Virgin Mary glued on it — that the victim identified, or why the investigator didn’t try to find DNA samples in Forde’s truck or the building where his business had been located before it moved to a new location after the alleged crime.

“Did you check for any semen in the truck?” Jenkins said. “Did you look for a hair sample that would have said, ‘He was definitely here?’”

Brown replied that he did not do any of those things. The armoire would have been hard to fingerprint, he said, because of the finish and the items that had been glued on its surface.

The detective also said he did not search Forde’s new residence — The Towers, where he moved in August 2010 — for the pornography.

“Isn’t it most likely if he had any pornography that it would have been at his house where he was now living?” Jenkins said. “If it wasn’t at the new store, it wasn’t at the store that had been abandoned or at the old house, wouldn’t it have been at The Towers? Why didn’t you go look at The Towers for the Astroglide you couldn’t find anywhere else, the towel, the pornography, or anything else you couldn’t find?”

Brown responded that he believed if Forde had those items, they would have been at the store.

“I felt if it wasn’t at the store, he didn’t have it,” Brown said.

The landlord for Forde’s former store location, Linda Wilborn, testified that Forde would not have been using the store location for business purposes before Oct. 15. One of the counts against Forde alleges a sexual encounter happened at the store in the fall of 2010.

AT&T employee Mike Lynchard also testified briefly Thursday.

The trial will resume this morning.