The Norman Transcript

October 22, 2013

Former OU professor faces nine counts; jury selection to be finalized this morning

By Jessica Bruha
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Potential jurors answered a variety of questions by prosecuting and defense attorneys Monday during the first day of former OU professor Dwain Pellebon’s jury trial.

Pellebon, 56, of Norman, was charged in 2011. The charges were amended in 2012 to three counts of child sexual abuse and six counts of lewd or indecent proposals to children.

Defense attorney David Smith talked to some of the jurors about the number of charges involved in the case, wondering if some may think “where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”

While some of the jurors said they believed that with so many allegations, some of them may be true, many said they would need facts before believing any allegations.

“I believe in the Constitution. I could be this man,” one potential juror said, pointing at Pellebon.

“This is a man’s life we’re talking about,” another potential juror said, while someone else added that these charges are “just one side” of the story.

When Smith talked to the group about responsibility, he asked them, philosophically speaking, how many of them would want to be in his shoes, defending his client. Several heads shook no.

While Smith said he holds responsibility, at some point, that is going to shift to jurors because they will have to make a decision.

Assistant District Attorney Susan Caswell questioned jurors earlier in the day about being able to assess punishment if they found someone guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Everyone said yes.

Punishment for the crimes include no less than three years or no more than 20 years in prison if found guilty of lewd or indecent acts to a child over 12 years of age; no less than 25 years or life in prison if found guilty of lewd or indecent acts to a child under 12 years of age; and up to one year in prison or a maximum of life in prison if found guilty of child sexual abuse.

Caswell and Smith also talked to the group about determining truthfulness, using common sense and motives for lying, whether it be an adult or child.

Several potential jurors talked about someone lying because they have a motive or reason to be untruthful, such as lying to protect someone they love. Others said sometimes a child may lie to get attention, try to get someone else in trouble or try to shift the attention and keep themselves from getting in trouble.

“Age plays a factor,” one of the potential jurors said.

A 5-year-old would only know what they see, whereas a 12- or 13-year-old may know how to play their cards, she said.

Another topic that received much discussion was the validity of a testimony from a child with an intellectual disability. One of the victims has an intellectual disability, Caswell said.

When Caswell asked the group if the disability could effect her credibility, many said no because while the victim may have the body of a 17-year-old, her mind is on the same level as some of the other witnesses.

Smith posed a question asking potential jurors if having an intellectual disability might be easier for someone to ask leading or suggestive questions to get the child to say what they want. Many said yes, they believe a child with mental health issues could be more easily led to answer the question how the interviewer wants them to.

Caswell also talked to jurors about different kinds of evidence used in cases, such as direct evidence versus circumstantial evidence.

She gave the example that with circumstantial evidence, you may tell a child not to eat any cookies, but if you find the cookie jar lid moved, cookies missing, follow the crumbs and find the child with chocolate on their face, it would be easy to tell that the child ate the cookie.

Some circumstances aren’t quite as easy because the child may be stealthy, Caswell said. They might know how to place the cookie jar lid back on just right and not leave any crumbs or chocolate anywhere, she said.

“Sometimes there’s no scientific evidence,” Caswell said, adding that the only eyewitnesses in this case are children.

Asked if they could determine whether someone was guilty just based on a child’s testimony, all of the potential jurors said yes. The victims in this case ranged in age from 5 to 16 at the time Pellebon was charged.

During a preliminary hearing last year in June, six female witnesses from ages 9 to 21 testified against Pellebon. The defendant was a social work professor at the university. He resigned in December 2011 shortly after he was charged.

As District Judge Tracy Schumacher read the list of people who could be called to testify, the list included a handful of victims and their family members, as well as some of Pellebon’s family members. The list also included several police officers and child care workers.

The trial will resume at 9 a.m. today in Schumacher’s courtroom at the Cleveland County Courthouse. Schumacher said defense will resume questioning potential jurors in the morning and a jury will be selected.

Jessica Bruha