Six-Year-Old Boy Testifies in Casper Child Sex Abuse, Kidnapping Trial
A young boy took the witness stand for some 40 minutes Tuesday morning to tell his version of events on the night a man allegedly kidnapped and sexually abused him last year.
The boy, who was five years old on the night of July 18, explained to jurors that a man took him across the river and sexually abused him before leaving him by himself near Wyoming Boulevard.
The accused, 34-year-old Joshua Ashby Winters, could face 45 years to life plus 70 years imprisonment if convicted of the three felonies charged against him.
The alleged victim said he and his brother went to the arcade at El Mark-O Lanes that day and played video games.
“He gave us money,” the victim said as he explained how he met Winters. The victim added that while Winters gave the boys money to play games, he did not play with them. The boy said he did not think Winters was friendly.
Winters was bowling, the victim said, but after some time Winters approached the victim’s brother and said his money was missing.
“He said I need help finding my money,” the boy told jurors.
The boys then went home, which was just a few blocks away, to check in with their mother. But the victim’s brother “told me to go to the bowling alley and help him find his money,” the boy said.
The victim went back to the bowling alley and met Winters inside. They then went to the river.
“He said ‘do you want to go swimming?’” the boy said Tuesday. “I said ‘no.’”
Winters had one bag with him, the victim said, and “hid it so nobody could find it” before they went to the river.
“He took me,” the victim told the jury. “He was holding my hand,” the boy said, explaining that Winters took him into the river.
Using one arm, Winters held the boy by his hips as they crossed the river. The victim said he felt scared.
“Because it was so deep and he didn’t even know how to swim,” the boy said. He told the jury he thought he would “drown,” as his mouth became submerged.
When they got to the other side, the boy said he remembered a woman asking whether they were alright. He said Winters told the woman they were fine, and she left.
Afterwards, the boy said Winters went to the bathroom. Then, the boy said, Winters sexually abused him.
The boy said his clothes stayed on, but Winters removed some of his clothing. He said Winters touched him “everywhere.”
“How were your bodies when he [allegedly abused] you?” Assistant District Attorney Brett Johnson asked the boy.
“Scared,” the boy replied. He went on to explain that he laid on his stomach and back.
Then, the boy said, he and Winters walked some distance before Winters dropped the boy off “in the middle of nowhere,” and told the boy to stay put. Then, Winters went looking for his bag.
“Next I got picked up by a lady,” the boy told the jury. He got into her car, and she took him to the Mills Police Department.
“He said don’t talk about this or else I’ll kill your family,” the boy said.
On cross-examination, public defender Robert Oldham asked whether anyone had ‘refreshed his memory,’ inquiring in a roundabout way as to whether the boy’s testimony had been coached.
“Did anybody try to help you remember things?” Oldham asked.
“Yes,” the boy replied, saying people had gone over his testimony with him on Monday.
Oldham asked further whether what the boy told the jury on Tuesday was from his memory of July 18, or from what he had been helped to remember Tuesday.
The boy said he told jurors what he remembered from July 18.
Oldham also asked why the boy returned to the bowling alley by himself to help Winters look for his money.
“Because my brother told me,” the boy replied, adding that he told Winters his brother had taken Winters’ money.
“Why did you tell him that?” Oldham asked.
“I don’t know,” the boy said.
Oldham also asked whether the boy had told anyone he took his clothes off at the river. The boy denied ever telling anyone he had removed his clothes.
“So you never took your clothes off?” Oldham inquired.
“Yes,” the boy answered.
The boy later said Winters only took his shirt off. But when Oldham explained the meaning of the word ‘naked’ to the boy, the boy said Winters had been naked.
Oldham also asked whether any other adults had been in the bowling alley before the boy and Winters left.
“Only the man that kidnapped me,” the boy said. He later explained that there were other adults in the bowling alley.
While the pair were still at the bowling alley, the boy told Oldham, Winters said, “Whoever took my money, I’m going to kill them.”
Oldham asked the boy how he got into the river after leaving the bowling alley with Winters.
“Did the man throw you?” Oldham asked. “I walked down there,” the boy replied, saying he slipped into the river.
“Did the man jump in after you?” Oldham continued, working to supplement Winters’ claim that the boy jumped or fell into the river and Winters dove in after him, holding the boy above water until he could get the boy back up onto the bank.
“He walked down there,” the boy told Oldham, adding that Winters grabbed him and pulled him.
“So he was helping you so you wouldn’t drown?” Oldham asked.
“Yeah,” the boy said.
During a second questioning of the boy, Johnson tried to clarify the manner in which the boy came to be in the river.
“When you’re standing down by the river, what is the man doing?” Johnson asked.
“He was putting his bag somewhere where nobody could find it,” the boy answered. The boy went on to explain, in answering further questions from Johnson, that he slipped and fell into the river, and Winters pulled him out.
Then, the boy said, the pair got into the water again.
“He was holding me,” before they got back into the water, the boy told Johnson.
“The second time you got into the river, did you want to get in the river?” Johnson asked.
“No,” the boy replied. “I didn’t.”
Also called as a state’s witness Tuesday morning was Rosemary Bartle, a licensed professional counselor and forensic interviewer at the Children’s Advocacy Project in Casper. She conducted the roughly 30-minute forensic interview with the victim at 10:45 p.m., after the responding police officer took him to the hospital.
Bartle, who testified to having conducted 300 official interviews with children as of May 1, described the interviews as “flexibly structured, non-leading, age-appropriate, child-led conversation[s].”
After a 15-minute break, Johnson played video of Bartle’s interview with the victim. He told Bartle, “Someone stole me.”
“He said he was going to kill me,” the boy said in the video. “I told him that he was a bully.”
The boy also said Winters, using his hands, had touched him on “his private stuff.”
“Actually he did it with his mouth,” the boy then told Bartle during the interview. “He told me to not tell anybody about it.”
“I told him he was an idiot,” the boy later added.
Bartle, in trying to understand the boy’s description of the alleged abuse, asked, “How was your body?”
“Not good,” the boy replied.
When asked by Johnson, Bartle explained it was typical for a boy that age to be unable to recall concrete detail.
In his cross-examination, Oldham asked whether Bartle had an “agenda” in conducting such interviews.
“No, my job is to conduct a non-leading interview,” Bartle replied. Oldham asked whether Bartle would have been able to tell if someone ‘put ideas in the victim’s head’ before the interview, based on the boy’s responses.
“I don’t challenge, I just ask,” Bartle replied.
“So a five-year-old makes accusations against someone and no one ever challenges it?” Oldham inquired. Bartle explained that her job is, “to create an opportunity for the child to share his experience.”
“So in other words if facts are remotely believable, they aren’t questioned?” Oldham asked again. Bartle replied that her job is to collect information only; she has no knowledge of the process for handling that information after she completes an interview.
Before breaking for lunch, Johnson recalled Casper Police Officer Levi Hallock to the witness stand. Hallock testified Monday, and Oldham raised questions about the fact that Hallock had not recorded his initial contact with the boy.
Johnson submitted as evidence several photographs Hallock took upon encountering the boy at the Mills Police Department on July 18. One of those photos reportedly shows partial swelling on the left side of the boy’s face.
Johnson also asked Hallock about what the boy said during their conversation.
“The male subject had touched him all over and put his mouth on his privates,” Hallock told Johnson. “[The alleged victim] informed me the man told him if he screamed or told anybody what had happened, he would kill him.”
Then, Hallock said he stopped speaking with the boy so a forensic interview could be completed. He said he had been taught to end such conversations after any disclosure of sexual abuse.
The trial continues Monday afternoon, and is set to run through Thursday. Oldham said Monday that Winters will take the witness stand at some point to tell his side of the story.