Tahlequah Daily Press

January 30, 2013

Jury convicts Yocum for lewd acts

By JOSH NEWTON
Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — Jurors deliberated more than two hours Tuesday before convicting a Tahlequah man of committing lewd acts to a 10-year-old girl he had raised as his daughter.

Christopher Joe Yocum, 28, showed little emotion as District Judge Darrell Shepherd read the jury’s guilty verdicts on both counts. The panel of 10 women and two men recommended Yocum receive three-year sentences on both charges.

Prosecutors called only two witnesses to testify during the two-day trial: the now-11-year-old victim, and Northeastern State University Detective Sgt. Jim Flores, who was lead investigator in the case.

Defense attorney Angela Jones called no witnesses to testify on Yocum’s behalf.

After both sides rested and jurors were excused for a break, Shepherd reminded Yocum of his right to decide whether to testify on his own behalf. Shepherd asked Yocum if he understood this right, and Yocum hesitated before saying he did. Shepherd  told Yocum he was offering him a final chance to make the decision, and Yocum again declined.

During testimony Tuesday morning, Jones questioned Flores over his investigation and the decision not to seek help from an outside entity – such as the Tahlequah Police Department – in handling the case. Jones explained the allegations had occurred on the university campus, and campus police typically handle such cases, though city officers also have jurisdiction to work on campus.

Jones raised questions about Flores’ testimony that an audio recording he tried to make of his interview with Yocum had failed to work. Flores said he didn’t know why the recording malfunctioned, and wasn’t aware of it until after the interview. Flores also said he didn’t seek anyone’s help in trying to recover the recording.

Jones told jurors during closing statements that Yocum had been “interrogated” by Flores for more than an hour and continually denied the allegations, but later inked out a written confession. Flores insisted during his testimony he conducted an “interview,” not an “interrogation.”

Flores testified he interviewed Yocum April 25, 2012, the day after Yocum allegedly placed the girl’s hand on his penis for a second time in about a month. According to Flores, Yocum denied, during about the first 30 minutes of the discussion, that he had done so.

But Flores said his instincts, and Yocum’s mannerisms, led him to believe Yocum was lying, and Flores admitted he accused Yocum of lying. Flores said Yocum appeared “withdrawn” during the interview, crying and refusing to look directly at the officer.

Jones insinuated Flores had formed an opinion that Yocum was guilty before the interview began.

“No,” Flores responded. “It’s not my job to determine guilt.”

Jones then insinuated Flores wouldn’t have been satisfied with the interview until Yocum made a confession.

“That’s word play on your part,” Flores said. “I wanted him to do the right thing, to tell the truth.”

Jones later told jurors the state prosecutors had not met their burden of proof, and produced little evidence that Yocum was guilty.

“[Assistant District Attorney B.J.] Baker tried really hard to get [the victim] to tell him what he wanted her to say, and she didn’t say it,” Jones told jurors.

Jones said innocent people have been known to confess to crimes they didn’t commit for various reasons and under certain circumstances. She pointed out no one knows the environment in which Yocum was placed during his interview with Flores – though Yocum wrote in his confession that Flores was “honest” with him during the talk, and also reportedly apologized for lying.

“There was a tape, but unfortunately, we don’t get to listen to it,” said Jones, “... because mysteriously, the tape isn’t working.”

Jones said Yocum wrote in his confession what Flores told him the victim had alleged.

“This man is on trial for his life. Why don’t you just investigate it? Common sense,” said Jones. “You can’t guess Mr. Yocum into the penitentiary. ... The way this investigation was handled was absolutely pathetic.”

Jones told jurors what the state presented was not enough to convict Yocum.

Baker and Assistant District Attorney Marena Doolittle pointed to testimony of the young victim, who said Yocum was in her room on night and she felt her hand being moved off of her bed. She said she believed Yocum’s hand was on her own hand, and described in words and by using her hand the shape and feel of what she was touching.

She said Yocum had previously apologized to her, but wouldn’t tell her what he did, and asked her not to tell anyone else.

Prosecutors said Yocum lied to Flores early in their interview because of shame and guilt.

“This is a case, as you heard, about shattered trust,” said Baker. “[Yocum] knew what he did the night before. He knew what he was doing; he did it the month before.”

Baker closed by asking jurors to send Yocum a message “that he can’t creep into little girls’ rooms in the dark of night for his sexual gratification.”

He then asked jurors to give Yocum the maximum punishment for both counts: 20 years each.

After jurors returned their verdict, Shepherd scheduled formal sentencing for 3 p.m. March 7.