A judge threw out incriminating statements Wednesday made by two boys accused of sexual harassment in the Patton Middle School in McMinnville.
Circuit Judge John Collins said that the McMinnville police officer, who initially questioned the boys, had not adequately explained their Miranda rights.
The case could go trial next week. And as Kristian Foden-Vencil reports, the DA faces repeated questions about the nature of the charges against the two boys.
Cory Mashburn and Ryan Cornelison were taken to the Patton Middle School office last February — after a teacher’s aide says she saw them swatting and grabbing girls' rear ends in a hallway.
McMinnville police officer, Marshall Roache and the schools’ vice principal, Steve Tillery, then questioned the boys — and five girls. The judge ruled that the boys didn’t understand their Miranda rights at that time, and therefore their testimony cannot be admitted at a trial.
The girls' testimony, however, will be allowed. That's a controversial decision because a number of the girls have since downplayed the touching, saying it was horseplay rather than sexual in nature.
Indeed defense attorney, Paul Lawrence, spent much of the day focusing on why Yamhill County District Attorney, Debra Markham, insisted the case is sexual in nature.
Paul Lawrence: "I was a prosecutor before. I know what it takes to charge. You have to have evidence to charge. You can’t say, you know these boys were rough housing, they were bad. You can’t even say they touched someone else so I charged them in this case."
In court, Lawrence asked DA Markham why she believes the boys were acting sexually rather than engaging in simple teenage horseplay.
Debra Markham: "All of those young women describe being touched only in particular areas of their body. They were touched on their breasts. They were touched, grabbed, slapped, touched in various manners on their buttocks. Sometimes the boys did this in conjunction with one another, sometimes individually. There was never a report by any of these young women that they were touched in any other area of their body. Nobody reported that their hair was pulled. No one reported that they were punched in the arm or that they were touched anywhere other than sexual parts of their body. That led me to believe that there was a sexual purpose for the touching they were doing."
Lawrence continued to push Markham, asking her for proof. She referred back to testimony taken the first day the allegations came to light.
Debra Markham: "When the fifth girl was spoken to, she said they did not grab her today, referring to both boys. But they did party-boy her. Party-boy at that time was described as pinning a person against an object or another person and rubbing the penis in a humping motion against the victim’s body. She said Ryan and Corey will get on either side of her, trap her between them and rub themselves against her. She said both boys have slapped and grabbed her buttocks in the past."
Lawrence countered that many allegations — like the ‘party-boy’ claim — have since been withdrawn. But Markham says she believes the girls have recanted their testimony rather than withdrawn it — a difference that she did not illuminate further.
At lunch recess, members of the boys' families and some of the families of the girls involved, wandered around and talked. Nickie Fisher is the mother of a girl who originally said she had been grabbed and then withdrew her testimony.
Nickie Fischer: "Our daughters got interrogated by two men before we were called. I didn’t get called 'til 6 o'clock. I picked my daughter up from school. She was hysterical, I couldn’t make heads or tails of what she was saying. Then finally realizing that she got called into the office with a police officer and the vice principal, getting questioned of whether she liked being touched on the butt. Well what 12 or 13-year-old girl is going to tell two grown men. Yeah I liked it. They had no choice what to say."
Fisher says there’s already talk of a lawsuit.
Nickie Fisher: "These kids are all friends. If these girls felt violated by these boys, why would they still be hanging out with them? I don’t understand why the DA’s office can’t see that."
Fisher was going to lunch with Shannon Holbrook, the mother of one of the accused boys — Ryan Cornelison. She says she regrets not warning her son about talking to the authorities.
Shannon Holbrook: "Unfortunately I did not teach Ryan that. Yes, 'do not be interrogated without your parents there'. And Ryan spilled his guts and I think that it was rewritten to benefit whatever’s going on here. Whatever they’re trying to hang onto. I do not believe that my son intentionally sexually abused those girls at all. And I will stand firm on that until this is over and even if we go to trial."
The last word outside the courtroom fell to 13–year-old Cory Mashburn, who says he’s learning a lot about the legal system.
Cory Mashburn: "I think it’s kind of crazy how they would charge so high."
The Yamhill County district attorney's office initially charged the two with multiple counts of felony sex abuse. Those accusations have since been reduced and only sexual harassment charges are pending.
If Judge Collins doesn’t dismiss the case, it’s scheduled to go to trial Monday.