The Norman Transcript

October 30, 2013

3 witnesses say they consider former professor a close friend

By Jessica Bruha
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Three witnesses brought forth by defense lawyers testified Tuesday in the ongoing trial for former OU professor Dwain Pellebon, 56, who is charged with child sexual abuse.

District Judge Tracy Schumacher said since the witnesses lived out-of-state, they agreed to call them to testify before all of the state’s witnesses testified. Their testimonies occurred partway through the lengthy cross examination of the lead investigator on Pellebon’s case, Norman Police Det. David Freudiger.

All of the defense’s witnesses were adult females who talked to the jury panel about their relationship with Pellebon as a child and as adults. All three came into contact with him on a military base in Las Vegas, where Pellebon was stationed for several years while serving in the United States Air Force.

The first defense witness, now a Senior Master Sgt. in the Air Force that attorneys called “Barbie,” told jurors she met Pellebon in 1981 when she was around 9 years old.

She said Pellebon was volunteering and was helping on the football field for youth activities on the base; she was a cheerleader for the youth football team her brother played on.

Barbie said members of the Air Force are expected to give back to the community and that is what Pellebon was doing. She said he also remembers him often volunteering as a disc jockey or chaperoning at youth dances she attended.

All of her memories of Pellebon appeared to be positive, and she credited him as someone who guided her and was like a father figure to her and others. There was nothing creepy or uncomfortable about Pellebon’s relationship with her at any point in time, she testified.

“He took care of us,” she said. “Dwain has been kind of a foundational pillar.”

She said he was a person who guided her and others in the right direction, teaching her personally that she was worthy and she was valuable.

“He’d put us on the right track,” Barbie said, explaining that if any of the children were going in the wrong direction, he would point his finger or give them a look and they knew to behave or he would tell their mother.

She also described Pellebon as an affectionate man who would hug them and tell them he loved them, which was something their parents didn’t often do.

“Those are some of the greatest hugs, to this day,” she said.

Barbie also kept in contact with Pellebon through letters over the years and even reached out to him during a difficult time in her life in November 2011, shortly before he was arrested in December 2011 for child sexual abuse.

She said Pellebon welcomed her with “absolutely open arms” and offered to counsel her through the matter.

When prosecution took over, they went over some of the same information, but perhaps the most eyebrow-raising question came when Barbie was asked how she felt as a parent about another man lying in bed with another child, who was not his own, stroking her body from head to toe.

Barbie said she didn’t think that was appropriate.

Pellebon allegedly stroked one of the girls involved in this case in that manner when the girl was spending the night at the Pellebon home during one of his stepdaughter’s sleepovers.

Witness 2: The second defense witness to testify, Donna, also came into contact with Pellebon when she was a cheerleader participating in youth activities on the Las Vegas military base.

Donna, a USAF member, talked about Pellebon as a father figure and a good friend, as well.

“He’s a great friend and still is ’til this day,” she said in a shaky voice with tears welling up in her eyes.

She said Pellebon’s affection, such as hugs or a kiss on the cheek or forehead, did not ever make her feel uncomfortable. She kept in contact with him over the years through a few letters, but mostly phone calls, she said.

Prosecuting attorney Lori Puckett asked the witness if during sleepovers or movie nights at Pellebon’s house, while he was single, if he had ever invited her to lay on the bed with him, if he ever laid in bed with her, if he ever discussed sexual education with her or ever stroked her body from head to toe. She replied “no.”

Pellebon was alleged to do several of these acts with various girls in recent years.

When Donna was asked if she thought it was wrong for a man to crawl into bed with a child and stroke their body from head to toe over and over again, she said no, because you would have to be there to see what really happened.

Witness 3: The last defense witness of the day, Joanna, came into contact with Pellebon at the recreational center on the Las Vegas base. Joanna also was friends with Barbie at the time, she testified.

Joanna told jurors she never felt uncomfortable around Pellebon but did not remember him as a particularly “touchy, feely” person.

She remembered incidents at the pool when other Airmen would whistle or make snide comments and Pellebon would tell them to knock it off, she said.

When Pellebon left Las Vegas, she said they wrote letters and in one particular letter, she was telling him about a boyfriend she had who was pressuring her to take their relationship to “the next level,” but she wasn’t sure about it.

Pellebon called her immediately after he received the letter and advised her that she was too young to be doing things like that, she said. The call made her feel “cared about,” she said.

Witnesses said Pellebon was someone all of the witnesses felt comfortable talking to about their secrets or problems because he wouldn’t judge them and wouldn’t tell on them to their parents unless he thought they were in danger.

State witness: Freudiger’s testimony began Monday and wrapped up shortly after 5 p.m. Tuesday. Freudiger’s testimony began Tuesday with the defense’s cross examination.

Defense attorney David Smith talked to Freudiger about his interview with Pellebon the night Pellebon was arrested.

During testimony, the detective confirmed that when he went to the Pellebon home to conduct an interview, he told Pellebon if he did not talk to him about the allegations, he was going to arrest Pellebon.

Freudiger testified that if Pellebon could not give him a reasonable explanation as to why these children said these things, he was going to arrest him. Since Pellebon couldn’t do that, he arrested him.

Along with a variety of other topics discussed, Smith also questioned Freudiger about the massive amount of photos taken from Pellebon’s home and office that were submitted as evidence. More than 19,000 photos were collected from both home and office computers, as well as photo albums and bags of photos.

Freudiger testified that none of the photos were pornographic in nature, but a few things concerned him. Freudiger said he guessed that a majority, or more than 50 percent, of the photos were of females between the ages of 9 and 15.

When Smith asked if Pellebon keeping these photos seemed to be sinister, Freudiger replied “yes.” When asked what photos Pellebon should get rid of, Freudiger replied, “I don’t know,” adding that was not something that was up to him to determine.

Some of those photos were displayed to the jury panel Tuesday when the defense witnesses testified.

Several of the photos shown were of the girls when they were children that Pellebon had taken while the girls were cheering at football games, hanging out around the neighborhood or at a youth dance.

Two witnesses in the photos said they enjoyed viewing the pictures again, and the photos brought smiles to both of their faces when they saw them and were questioned about the photos.

Another topic heavily discussed by both defense and prosecuting attorneys was the forensic interview of one of the victims who was repeatedly described as “mildly mentally retarded.”

Smith questioned the suggestive nature of the forensic interviewer’s questions while prosecution brought to light, with their cross examination, the questions that weren’t quite as suggestive as some might believe.

Freudiger testified that the victim was the first one to use certain words during the interview, and the interviewer’s questions were consistent with previous questions or things already discussed.

The trial is in recess until 9 a.m. today in Judge Schumacher’s courtroom.

Jessica Bruha