Victim's mother bursts into tears during Briard trial testimony
FOLEY -- Testimony began Wednesday in the jury trial of Frazee hog farmer Robert Briard on a criminal sexual conduct charge.
As is often the case when members of the same family are on opposing sides of a court trial, the proceedings included a few dramatic moments.
The alleged victim in the case was the first witness called, and though she admitted to being nervous, she was seemingly calm in answering questions from both the defense and prosecution. It was her mother, following her onto the stand, who became so emotional during her testimony that she burst into tears.
The victim's mother started crying as she was talking about her daughter's reluctance to talk to her about the incident that led to the charges against Briard. After crying for several moments, she informed Becker County District Court Judge Peter Irvine, "I'm having a really hard time."
After a brief recess to allow the witness to regain her composure, Judge Irvine addressed the gallery of viewers at the trial -- including several members of the Briard family -- prior to the resumption of testimony.
Irvine said, "It has come to my attention that there may have been some inappropriate conduct" -- i.e., actions by persons sitting in the gallery during the witness' testimony that led to her loss of composure.
Earlier in the day, as testimony was about to begin, Judge Irvine informed those sitting in the gallery that he would not hesitate to remove anyone from the courtroom who attempted an action that was intended to intimidate a witness.
He reiterated that statement, then noted that because he had not personally witnessed the behavior, he would not take action at that time -- but he would be watching to make sure it did not happen again.
"I've kicked people out of courthouses before," he warned.
Earlier in the day, the victim had testified about an incident that allegedly occurred during the summer of 2005, on the dock of the Briards' lake cabin in Becker County.
She said that Briard had gone down with her to investigate a splinter in the dock that worried her, because it was exposed. Briard was at the cabin because he and his wife, Virginia, had reportedly been called there to care for her injured cousin.
She and her older brother were swimming with their cousin at the lake cabin when he dove off the dock and struck his nose on a rock.
"I knew it was bad," she said of her cousin's injuries, but added that she hadn't really seen the nose for herself because he was holding it between his hands.
The witness then testified that while the Briards were seeing to her cousin's injuries, she talked to Virginia Briard about the splinter on the dock. Virginia asked her to take Robert Briard down to the dock to show him where the splinter was.
While she was doing that, Briard allegedly told her to sit down next to him, and began running his finger along a seam in her jeans, toward what she referred to as "my bottom" (which she later explained was the word she used to refer to her vagina).
She "didn't feel right" about the way he was touching her, the girl testified. But she didn't tell anyone what had happened at that time -- it was not until the spring of the following year that she finally found the words to tell her mother what had happened.
That was the incident that eventually led to the charges against Briard -- though she didn't actually tell her mother about the incident until 10 months later, in the spring of 2006.
Her mother, in turn, did not report the incident to Becker County law enforcement until several months later, in the fall of 2006. During testimony, when asked why she waited so long, the mother paused for several seconds and finally admitted it was because of her close family relationship with Briard.
During testimony, the mother also discussed the fact that her daughter had told a cousin about the incident several months before she told her. When asked what explanation her daughter had given for talking to her cousin first, the mother said, "she needed to tell someone."
It was at this point that the witness burst into tears and had to leave the courtroom in order to regain her composure.
Earlier, the daughter had testified that she didn't tell her mother about "the dock incident" until "about two years" after it happened. (It was later revealed during testimony that the actual time frame was about 10 months.)
At that time, she also talked with her mother about two other minor encounters with Briard that had left her with "the same icky feeling" as she experienced after the dock incident. One of them involved riding in front of him on a 4-wheeler; the other, an incident where he had traced the letters of a word printed on the front of her t-shirt with his hand, in a way that made her feel uncomfortable.
The victim had talked about both the ATV incident and the dock incident in a videotaped interview with the chief investigator in the case, Kathy Nguyen, on Nov. 4, 2006. But she made no mention of the T-shirt incident at that time -- a fact that was reiterated repeatedly by the defense.
During her testimony, Nguyen noted that facts frequently come out during the course of an investigation that were not revealed in the initial interview.
Nguyen's testimony was the last of the day; after she was dismissed, the judge informed the jurors that they should make plans to be sequestered on Thursday, as testimony is anticipated to conclude tomorrow.