After just under two hours of deliberation Friday, a Comanche County jury found a 45-year-old man not guilty of lewd acts with a child.
Kevin Crisel, 45, had been on trial this week for a December 2018 felony charge of lewd or indecent acts with a child under 12. He has been free on $25,000 bond for the allegation since he was charged with the felony count on Dec. 7, 2018, records indicate.
With support from his wife, six children and assorted other relatives filling the gallery near the defense, Crisel waited with his counsel with anticipation. An air of shock filled the courtroom with the reading of the verdict.
Crisel was accused of molesting the girl from 2009 to 2012 when she was between the ages of 5 and 8 years old. Now 16, the girl’s testimony came early in the trial after the jury was seated Tuesday.
After walking the jury through the particulars of the jury instructions and reminding them that the best evidence of the trial was found in “the witness chair right here,” First Assistant District Attorney Kyle Cabelka then turned it over to Crisel’s counsel, Dave Smith of Norman.
Smith told the jury to look at the lack of evidence as one of the keys to making their judgment simple. He said the now-teen girl would have had to lie about his client’s responsibility in the crime to prove the State’s case.
“They have to prove she lied twice,” he said. “That one thing is the nail in the coffin to this case.”
The girl was the victim from an adjudicated case involving Crisel’s brother. Anthony Douglass Crisel Jr., 25, was convicted in March 2018 of lewd or indecent acts to a child under 16 due, in large part, from her testimony. He received six years to serve with Department of Corrections, followed by a year of post-conviction supervision by the Department of Corrections and he is to register as a sex offender.
According to the court affidavit, the 10-year-old victim told Crisel of the more than nine months of abuse at his brother’s hands.
Crisel has a pending trial for charges related to that case. Smith and Cabelka also are the lawyers of record for that case. He was charged in August 2016 with a felony charge of child endangerment. He has been free on $50,000 bond since September 2016.
Following that case, the girl later came to the District Attorney’s Office in 2018 to report the allegations brought to light with this week’s trial.
“When she was asked why it took so long (to report the abuse by Crisel), she said ‘I was confused, young and I didn’t know what was going on.’ That’s what she was told to say.”
Smith noted that the girl said the first time she was abused by Crisel was in his brother’s room when she was 5 years old. The defender alleged that she dreamed it had happened and, that if it had, that it was Anthony Douglass Crisel Jr. who committed it.
Smith told the jury there’s a good chance the now-16-year-old girl was possibly coached into her testimony or that she was making it up. Citing expert witnesses who testified on Crisel’s behalf, he said there didn’t appear to be the “grooming” of the girl that would be evidenced by most child molesters and their victims. False memories also were alleged.
“According to (the victim), he just started molesting her one day,” he said. “That’s not very likely, folks.”
Of the Kelleys’ testimony, Smith believed there was something not right. He questioned why the District Attorney’s Office declined to file charges in 2003 when their father made contact and provided reports from investigators and case workers from Arizona. He offered conjecture they’d been molested by their father.
“No. 1, they declined to press charges and second, all the proof … is gone,” Smith said. “That’s not to say something didn’t happen to the Kelleys … but by whom?”
Smith closed by asking the jury to overcome its fear of making the wrong call regarding child sexual abuse. He said the girl’s testimony should be considered suspect.
“One man is in prison for six years because of her testimony,” he said. “We ask that you do the right thing.”
Cabelka returned for his final closing arguments and admitted “this case is complicated.” He called the 2003 decision not to press charges against Crisel “a mistake.” He asked the jury not to make another one.
“Use your common sense and your reason, ladies and gentlemen,” he said.
Cabelka said that Smith’s questioning as to why the girl didn’t tell investigators Crisel had been grooming her like expert witnesses described as the actions of most child molesters was moot.
“Maybe he didn’t groom this time because he’d been getting away with it a long time,” he said.
While using a timeline of events, Cabelka pointed to the strength shown by a then-20 years old Jennifer Kelley to come to Lawton and speak with investigators. Although it was 10 years after her and her siblings’ abuse, he said the need to tell what happened became overwhelming. In turn, her sisters provided similar stories of abuse to investigators.
“She flew across the country to tell her story,” he said.
Cabelka said it was important to think about why the Kelleys traveled again from Arizona to Lawton for this week’s trial.
“This wasn’t their trial,” he said. “I want you to think about courage, the courage the Kelleys had coming up here and telling you their stories. What did Jessica say? ‘I felt I needed to do it so that everyone knew.’”
When the girl at the heart of this week’s trial finally told of Crisel’s abuse, Cabelka said it was similar to the reasoning described by Jennifer Kelley in Thursday’s testimony.
“That secret was too much at that point and she had to tell somebody,” Cabelka said. “Since she’s disclosed, her story hasn’t changed.”
In his final statement, Cabelka left the jury with a question to ask themselves along with a statement.
“Ask yourself, would you let Kevin be your babysitter?” he said. “If so, send him home.”
“The system failed the Kelley sisters, it doesn’t have to fail (the girl).”
Crisel remains out on bond for the child endangerment case. When asked if Friday’s verdict changes anything with that case, Cabelka offered a one word answer: “Nope.”
Along with being the columnist of Soundemonium Musaic, Scott Rains is also a police, fire, Native Affairs and roller derby reporter for The Lawton Constitution. You can email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.