The Norman Transcript

October 23, 2013

First witness takes the stand

By Jessica Bruha
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — The state’s first witness took the stand Tuesday afternoon during the second day of former OU professor Dwain Pellebon’s jury trial in Cleveland County District Court.

The 10-year-old female witness answered questions from both prosecuting and defense attorneys, telling them everything she could remember about her time spent with Pellebon, 56, who was charged in 2011 with sexual child abuse.

Pellebon is charged with three counts of child sex abuse and six counts of lewd or indecent proposals to children.

Squirming around in the chair and swiveling from side to side, her head barely above the witness booth, the girl said she met Pellebon because her older sister and Pellebon’s stepdaughter were friends who met through school.

She and her sister would go over to the Pellebon’s home and play sometimes because of that friendship. During those visits, sometimes her sister and Pellebon’s daughter would go off and play by themselves, she said.

When defense attorney David Smith asked the girl if she would ever ask Pellebon to play with her, she said yes, the first time she met him. They often played the game “Guess Who” or a fighting game she invented, she said.

The 10-year-old said she would often play the fighting game with her father as well, but they had different rules. When she would play the game with Pellebon, she was able to use “magic powers” to where she could keep Pellebon from “attacking” her because he played a monster and she played a person with magical powers.

When she played with her father, she said they mainly just wrestled around and she had no magic powers.

During the game, she would have Pellebon chase her around the house and whenever she got caught, he would “eat her,” but it was just pretend eating her, she said. The game never hurt her and Pellebon would always be gentle when he would pretend to bite her with his hands, she said.

Several times when Pellebon caught her, he would plop her down on the bed in his bedroom and pretend bite her, the girl said. She would be laying on her back and Pellebon would sit on the bed and “eat her” by “biting” her arms or shoulders, adding that he would never really bite her, just pretend, she said.

Other people were always around the house whenever the two played the games together, including Pellebon’s wife, son, daughter and her sister, she said. When her older sister tried to play the game with them one time, the girl said she told her sister she couldn’t play because it was a “her and Pellebon thing.”

Sometimes she would play with Pellebon and sometimes she would play with her sister and Pellebon’s daughter when they went to visit Pellebon’s home, she said.

When she and Pellebon weren’t playing the games and the girls were off doing something else, sometimes they would get on the computer in Pellebon’s bedroom and watch YouTube videos. One in particular she remembered was a cartoon that she typed in the YouTube search bar and watched on the computer, she said.

When they would watch videos together, there was only one chair in front of the computer, so she would sit on Pellebon’s lap and he would have his arms around her holding her, both facing toward the computer as they watched, she said.

When asked if Pellebon’s clothes or her clothes ever came off during any of the visits, she said no. When asked if Pellebon ever touched her in places that are not OK to touch or if he ever asked her to touch him, she said no.

Smith asked the girl if sometimes she would smack Pellebon on the butt and she said yes. But when asked if Pellebon ever smacked her on the butt in return, she said no.

Smith also asked if during the fighting game she would ever push Pellebon onto the bed, and she said yes.

The girl’s testimony concluded the trial for the evening; it will be in recess until 9 a.m. today in District Judge Tracy Schumacher’s courtroom.

Prosecutor’s opening statements: Opening statements prior to the girl’s testimony given by Assistant District Attorney Lori Puckett painted a picture of what police found during their investigation of Pellebon, how many family members in the Pellebon’s social circle felt uncomfortable with Pellebon’s interactions with their children and how the victim’s felt uncomfortable with Pellebon’s actions toward them.

Puckett also talked about Pellebon making significant efforts to make contact with some of the victims and some of the “exclusive” relationships he had with the girls.

Puckett said during social gatherings, Pellebon wouldn’t socialize with adults but would often play with younger girls and frequently invite the children over, take them to movies and buy them gifts.

After several parents in the social group began talking about their concerns regarding Pellebon’s interaction between children, they went to authorities and took measures to where their children would no longer be around Pellebon, she said.

During Pellebon’s interview with police, Puckett said Pellebon had an excuse for every single contact with children outside of his family. They were actions he believed to be perfectly normal and sensible, she said.

Defense’s opening statements: Opening statements given by defense attorney Jackie Ford painted a different picture for jurors — one that showed Pellebon as a father, husband, teacher and friend.

“I believe the evidence isn’t going to be nearly as bad as what it just sounded,” Ford said.

Ford said jurors will be hearing from Pellebon’s two ex-wives and two daughters from his previous marriages and the healthy relationship they have co-parenting those children.

They do not deny any of the allegations about Pellebon playing with the girls or showing them affection by hugging or kissing them on the forehead but do deny that any of those allegations involved sexual abuse or sexual relations, Ford said.

“You have to decide where the boundaries are,” she said to the jury panel, adding that hugging and kissing a child are actions that are not illegal and were not lewd or lascivious in manner or for sexual gratification.

Ford also pointed out that Pellebon’s son also had friends, other boys, around the house and who they would take to the movies and the park and would wrestle with.

“Those are all of the things you would expect a father to do with his son,” she said.

Several adult women have known Dwain Pellebon their whole lives as a friend and a mentor, throughout high school and college. Some of those women have daughters of their own who Pellebon was close with, and if he were “grooming” them, like a sexual predator would do, it would have ended with molestation, Ford said.

Jessica Bruha