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DA rests in case of former Hallsville coach

By Bridget Ortigo
Aug. 12, 2017 at 4 a.m.

Harrison County District Attorney Coke Solomon during the trial of former Hallsville ISD coach Dean McDaniel for allegedly engaging in sexual misconduct with students, on Tuesday August 8, 2017, in the 71st District Court at the Harrison County Courthouse in Marshall. (Michael Cavazos/News-Journal Photo)

The defense attorney representing former Hallsville ISD coach Dean McDaniel, against four charges of sexual misconduct with former students, continued to build a case for mistrial on Friday against Harrison County District Attorney Coke Solomon.

The state rested its case about midday on Friday, the fifth day of trial, after calling licensed counselor Sally Moseley to the stand to talk about her professional opinion of the 19-year-old witness in the case of the improper student/teacher relationship charge against McDaniel.

McDaniel is also facing charges on three counts of indecency with a child by exposure with intent of sexual gratification.

Moseley served as the teen's personal counselor during the time of the alleged improper relationship with McDaniel. The witness was 17 years old at the time of the incident.

While Solomon attempted to prove the trustworthiness of the teen's testimony through Moseley's professional opinion on Friday, McDaniel's defense attorney, Mark Lassiter, attempted to do the opposite by calling in former co-workers and friends of the teen to discredit him.

Testimony

Moseley, who testified Friday that she counseled the teen for about three years, said he was a normal teenage boy who feared telling people of the inappropriate actions of McDaniel because he feared what his father would think of him.

"He didn't want his father to be mad at him or disapprove of him," Moseley said.

Moseley also said the teen told her he trusted McDaniel and didn't realize that what was done to him was inappropriate until McDaniel faced charges from the three other teenage athletes.

Moseley also addressed the teen's inconsistencies of when he reported the incidents to his family, friends and herself from his testimony on Thursday.

"I think that would just be confusion," Moseley said. "It's hard to remember dates and I wouldn't remember them if I didn't have my notes."

Moseley also testified on general personality traits and actions.

"If I had a person lay down in the shower while naked and massaged their genitals and touched their testicle area, would that be sexual intent?" Harrison County Assistant District Attorney Kristin Kaye asked Moseley.

"It could be," Moseley replied.

The teen testified on Thursday that McDaniel showered naked with him and performed stretches on him while in the shower that involved McDaniel touching his genitals. The teen also said on Thursday that he and McDaniel shaved each other's genital areas at the prompting of McDaniel.

Moseley also said the teen was scared to testify and didn't want to but followed through because he "felt it was the right thing to do."

"(The witness) said it was what he felt like he needed to do so it didn't happen to anyone else," Moseley said. "(The witness) had to come back to therapy sessions before his testimony to deal with the anxiety and fear."

Moseley also testified that the teen did not suffer from a borderline personality disorder, as Lassiter alluded to on Thursday.

State rests

Just before Solomon rested the state's case on Friday, the jury left the courtroom while Solomon argued to allow the first teen witness to return and give testimony about two additional incidents involving McDaniel.

The two incidents referred to by Solomon were the "hotel" incident and the "hugging" incident.

The first teen to take the stand in this trial was not present on Friday and 71st Judicial District Judge Brad Morin denied Solomon a chance to call the teen forward again for more testimony.

Solomon argued that the "hotel" incident was relevant because McDaniel had reportedly offered for the teen to stay in a hotel room with him during a trip, despite the teen's dad being present. Solomon said the teen did not want to be near McDaniel and "shrank away from him."

The details of the "hugging" incident were not disclosed and the jury returned to the courtroom to hear Solomon rest the state's case.

Case for mistrial

Lassiter also presented several points to Morin, outside the presence of the jury on Friday, all in an effort to prod the judge into declaring a mistrial.

"Once you're told about allegations like this, you know you have to report it, correct," Lassiter said to Moseley.

She agreed.

"I did; I debated who to contact but I ended up calling Hallsville Police Department and then I eventually talked to (Hallsville ISD Police Chief) Terry Turner," Moseley said. "I didn't write a statement, I just talked to him and he interviewed me over the phone."

Lassiter then told Morin that he again needed to make a plea for prosecutorial misconduct.

"There has been no discovery ever provided of the discussion between Moseley and Turner who was acting as an agent of the state," Lassiter said. "There was no evidence of that conversation between them turned over to us. This is another hidden piece of evidence."

Solomon argued that Moseley's personal notes, which he shared with the defense about two weeks ago, counted as evidence in the discovery.

"Would you be surprised to learn that Chief Turner never reported that you spoke with him, ever?" Lassiter asked Moseley.

"It would surprise me," she said.

Lassiter then moved on to calling the defense's witnesses in the case, including former Hallsville ISD Athletic Director David Plunk, who served as McDaniel's direct supervisor.

Plunk said while he didn't believe it was OK for coaches to shower naked with student athletes or train one-on-one with them, he did feel that McDaniel was an honest, trustworthy man.

Plunk also said that Chief Turner, who served as the lead investigator in all four charges against McDaniel, had a tendency to be overzealous in his job and exacerbate situations.

"Terry is an honest person but he can get a little carried away in some situations," Plunk testified.

Plunk testified that he never spoke with Chief Turner about the allegations, despite receiving a phone call from two of the teen's parent in the case. Plunk said he instead reported the call to Hallsville ISD administration who asked him to stay out of the investigation.

"Did you provide a written statement to Chief Turner," Lassiter asked Plunk.

"I don't believe so, he did not ask me for one," Plunk said. "I would have provided one if he had asked me to."

Lassiter then asked Plunk if he would be surprised to hear that Turner said he not only talked to Plunk but also asked Plunk to give a written statement and Plunk refused.

"That would be incorrect, yes," Plunk said.

Lassiter said, in fact, Turner did not receive written statements not only from Moseley or Plunk, he also didn't get written statements from any of the four alleged victims in the case.

Lassiter charged that the lack of written statements from witnesses may account for the continued discrepancies in their testimonies.

Lassiter then called Private Investigator Marissa Wallace who testified that as a former Dallas police officer, she did her own investigation in the four charges and found Turner's investigation severely incomplete and lacking.

"The investigator should always get written statements of witnesses in the case and in a case where the charge involves sexual intent, the investigator should always ask the witnesses if they felt the defendant had sexual intent towards them," Wallace testified. "Turner never asked the witnesses that in this case."

Wallace said she also found the teen involved in the improper student/teacher relationship charge with McDaniel to be not credible, based on testimonies from the teen's own co-workers, friends and fellow students. She said on the contrary, hundreds of people were willing to testify to the upstanding moral character of McDaniel.

Solomon challenged Wallace's determination by stating that she was basing her sole judgment on the case off of what others said of the teens' personalities.

"If Jesus robbed Satan, then Jesus committed a crime right," Solomon said. "But if everybody says that Jesus is the more truthful person, does that mean that Satan is lying about being robbed?"

Wallace reluctantly agreed that that should not be the case.

Solomon then pointed out that statistically, Wallace knows that most children involved in molestation cases are often troubled children, to which Wallace agreed.

"If someone is molesting a kid that's known as a liar, then the molester knows that nobody will probably believe that kid," Solomon said.

Wallace agreed.

"But what if there's multiple kids with matching details," Solomon said. "That lends credibility to them right."

Wallace again agreed that it could.

Allegations

To further prove his allegations of prosecutorial misconduct, Lassiter then called two witnesses who said they were contacted by Kaye and felt like they were made to feel guilty for being willing to defend McDaniel.

"She went over what Dean had been charged with and she did go over specifics," witness Kristin Wells said Friday. "She went deeper into the charges than I was aware of. I felt there was a tone of 'how can you support this'."

Defense witness Travis Vrana also said Kaye called him and tried to make him feel guilty about testifying for McDaniel.

"She called and told me his charges and I said that coach McDaniel would never do that," Vrana testified Friday. "She said four boys' lives were changed forever and made me feel as though the crimes were so heinous that why would I want to testify for someone who committed these crimes."

Three of the defense's witnesses, including Vrana, who served as McDaniel's former athletes, testified Friday that the coach showered naked with them both in groups and alone, routinely, but that there was no sexual intent behind the acts.

Following the testimony of Vrana, the jury again left the courtroom and Lassiter again charged the prosecutor's of misconduct.

"This is a clear violation of the Brady Act judge," Lassiter said. "The Brady Act involves the withholding of information you believe to be exonerating, such as the witness stating, 'McDaniel would never do that'. I'm sorry (the prosecutors) don't understand what they did wrong but this is a systemic problem in this case."

Lassiter also told Morin that the defense received 700 pages of discovery just a week before the trial was to begin, even though discovery information was to be turned over almost 10 months ago by court order.

"This is new information that we got just before we sent it to them judge," Solomon said.

Morin said he would take the matter of prosecutorial misconduct under advisement and dismissed the jury until 9 a.m. Monday when testimony is set to resume in the case.

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