Hearing looks at how Dollar kids testify

Date: 2005-08-30

St. Petersburg Times

A hearing to decide whether the Dollar children should be allowed to testify by video instead of on the witness stand got under way Monday afternoon in what became a closed courtroom.

After hearing from one witness, a sheriff's detective, Circuit Judge Ric Howard granted a defense motion to hold the hearing in private. The hearing continued into Monday evening.

John and Linda Dollar are accused of torturing five of their adopted children. They each face five counts of aggravated child abuse. They have pleaded not guilty and are being held at the Citrus County jail awaiting a trial, which is scheduled to begin Oct. 31.

The hearing Monday began in open court, with sheriff's Detective Lisa Wall testifying. Much of her testimony covered the well-publicized details of the alleged abuse. Wall, who said she interviewed all five children between Jan. 27 and 31, said they told her the abuse took place in Tennessee and in Hillsborough, Pasco and Citrus counties. The Dollars were arrested by Citrus officials.

Wall said the children told her they were kept in a walk-in closet most of the time and were allowed out only for bathroom breaks. Wall also said the children told her of beatings, food deprivation, electric shocks, and of having their fingernails and toenails pulled out.

The Dollars' attorney, Charles Vaughn, gave an indication of the strategy he plans to use at trial: label the children as liars.

During cross-examination, Vaughn asked Wall whether the children told her that they were "liars and cheats."

The detective answered that the children did say that to her.

Then, during later questioning by Assistant State Attorney Rich Buxman, Wall appeared to change her testimony and said that the children told her that their stepparents told them that they were liars and cheats.

At that point, Vaughn asked the judge to have the hearings closed, and Howard granted the motion. The hearing, with at least three state witnesses, continued into the early evening.

Defendants typically are allowed to come face-to-face with their accusers.

But prosecutors say the Dollar children would be harmed if they were forced to testify in the courtroom where their parents sat. Such an experience would damage the children's emotional recovery, the state has said.

Prosecutors' proposed solution is to have the children testify by video. They would answer questions from attorneys for both sides, but they would not come in contact with their parents. For example, the children could be questioned in one room while the Dollars watched on a closed-circuit TV.

Jorge Sanchez can be reached at 860-7313 or e-mail at sanchez@sptimes.com.


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