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Defense calls witnesses; closing arguments heard in Briard trial

Tuesday was the defense's turn to call witnesses, mainly trying to prove the alleged victim's lack of trustworthiness.

The defense called two of Robert Briard's sons and three daughters-in-law to testify to the victim's need for attention, overactive thoughts and ability to lie.

Ashley Briard, Robert Briard's son, testified that the Briards were a close family growing up, and described the victim as "outgoing. She always had to be in the front of everything. She needed a lot of attention."

The family was described as being very strict and very hard work oriented, but Ashley Briard said, "I believe it was a happy childhood."

Ashley Briard's brother, Whitman, who is the youngest of Robert Briard's eight children, also testified that the family "got along good, worked hard, played hard, a normal family."

Ashley and Whitman Briard both described a typical evening at the Briard home included chores on the farm and sitting down to a family-style supper where they went around the table to "say the good and bad of the day." After supper, Robert Briard would read the Bible, Whitman Briard said.

The brothers also testified that they were embarrassed by the charges brought against their father and that they resented the victim for telling law enforcement about the alleged crime.

Ashley Briard said the victim asked about the family hog business a lot and "begged" him to get out while he still could because "she was going to take the empire down, 'no matter what it takes.'"

In the spring of 2006, Whitman Briard said the victim had a conversation with him about her and her son seeing demons.

"I never heard anything like that before and I started laughing," he told the court.

His laughter upset the victim and she left the room, he continued.

When cross-examined by County Attorney Mike Fritz, Whitman Briard admitted he had told a defense investigator that the victim had only said that her son had seen the demons and that she had believed him.

He also testified that he hadn't sought out contact with the victim in a year, and that she has been isolated by the rest of the Briard family. He added that he still loved her though.

"She did it by herself," he said.

Wendy Briard, who is married to Forest Briard, Robert Briard's fourth oldest child, testified that the victim loved the Briard family and "always bragged about them."

"Whatever honor she could do for (the) family, she did," Wendy Briard said.

She also said, though, that the victim confided in her that when she was 8 years old, "grandpa (Robert Briard) had rubbed her belly" above her clothing.

Fritz pointed out that Wendy Briard had never gone to the police or mentioned that the victim had been touched. When the defense asked why she didn't mention that to law enforce-ment, Wendy Briard replied, "what crime is there in that? We do that to our kids all the time."

Braydee Briard, who is married to Hunter Briard, the second to the last of Robert Briard's children, testified that the victim had confided in her that she "thought her mind thought so big it would be embarrassing for people to know what she thought."

She also said she felt the victim is involved in too many activities and should spend "a bit more" time at home with her children.

Amanda Briard, who is married to Whitman Briard, knew the victim before she married into the Briard family. She babysat the victim's children and the victim actually introduced Amanda Briard to her husband, Whitman.

She said the victim described the Briard family as "very close, very wonderful, wonderful people, had fun together at family functions."

Fritz asked Amanda Briard about a letter she had sent to the victim's husband, as-ing him to talk to his wife and have her drop the charges against Robert Briard because this "judicial crap has gone on long enough."

Regardless of the various testimonies, the five who testified all stuck to their bottom line: "She's not believable."

Fritz, in his rebuttal, called three witnesses to the stand to testify to the victim's charac-ter and that she was indeed trustworthy.

Pauline Brekke said she had known the victim and the Briard family since she was about 12 years old, and that the victim is "very honest and a trustworthy friend."

Jody Kulik, who met the victim through church, agreed that the victim is "very much a truthful person."

Mary Olson, who was the victim's and several other Briard children's teacher at Frazee-Vergas School said the victim is "very honest and very truthful."

Closing arguments

Closing arguments for the case took up Tuesday afternoon, with both Fritz and defense attorney Earl Gray objecting during the other's closing statements.

Fritz began by saying se-crets can weigh on a person and especially when those secrets are sexual abuse at the hand of someone close.

"Today, (she) is free of that secret and burden," he said.

He said over the last 25 years, the victim has buried the burden and secrets. She didn't "speak of it because she'd be betraying (Robert Briard), but a burden like that can't stay down forever," he said.

He spoke about how Robert Briard had told investiga-tor John Sieling he had touched the victim inappropriately. He added that if the touching had been a simple belly rub over the top of her shirt, as the five witnesses said Tuesday, "we might as well pack up and go home" because that's not inappropriate.

"Why, after 23 years, does he remember that incident?" Fritz continued, bringing out a large board with a portion of the recorded conversation with Sieling that stated Robert Briard saying he remembered sitting on a couch with the victim when she was 8 years old and that he had touched her inappropriately.

If it was an inadvertent graze, as the defense is saying, he asked how Robert Briard would remember the incident in question.

Robert Briard corroborates the victim's story, he said.

Fritz asked the jury to use "common sense and good judgment" when looking at the case. He attacked the three questions raised about the victim's credibility as well.

Those who testified said the victim always wanted to be the center of attention. "Is this the kind of attention a person wants," where she is abused and an entire family won't talk to her, he asked. "Did it look like she was enjoying the attention?"

The victim was also accused of exaggerating. Fritz said if that was the case, why didn't she make up details surrounding the events rather than saying she couldn't remember?

And finally, he spoke to witnesses saying the victim is untruthful. "If she's untruthful, how come (Robert Briard) remembers that time when she was 8?"

For the defense's part, Gray said that if the victim had simply wanted an apology, why wasn't the one given by Robert Briard three days after he was accused of the crimes enough? Why didn't she forgive and not let it get to this point?

He said it's difficult to try a case that is 25 years old, but this is a "classic case of presumed innocent."

"Just because someone says something 23 years later doesn't mean it's true," he said.

He said that the victim brought up things on the stand that she had never told investigators, and that the victim's husband testified that she had told him about the sexual abuse 14 years ago when they got married, but she had not remembered that she had even told her husband.

"When you go over her testimony, it makes no sense, it's not reasonable," Gray said.

He continued that the victim said she waited so long to go to law enforcement or tell her family about the alleged abuse because she loved Robert Briard. Why did she stop loving him all of a sudden, he questioned.

And why did she allow Robert Briard to baby-sit her children if he had abused her, he added.

"It just doesn't happen," he said. "Is she afraid to face (Robert Briard) because she's lying?"

Gray continued that in the book she's writing, which Fritz called a therapeutic thing for her, the victim calls some of the incidents she describes as dreams. But when she was called to the witness stand, she said they weren't dreams, but rather real life happenings.

Another inconsistency he pointed out in the victim's testimony is that in a statement to investigators, she said the incident when she was 8 years old lasted five to 10 minutes. When she testified in court, she said it lasted less than one minute.

The alleged abuse took place around 5:30-6 p.m. on her birthday. Gray questioned where the other seven children would have been when this was happening in the living room.

Regarding the accusation that Robert Briard admitted inappropriately touching the victim, Gray said Sieling went to the Briard farm and recorded the conversation without Robert Briard's knowledge. He denied he had penetrated the victim with his finger and that if he had touched the victim over her clothing, it was because he was an "active guy" and didn't mean to.

"Sieling goes out and to protect society, he takes advantage of a 60-year-old farmer. That's what basically happened here," Gray said.

"It's all unbelievable testimony and certainly beyond a reasonable doubt."

In his rebuttal, Fritz said that Gray had said Robert Briard was a hard working farmer who reads the Bible and a law-abiding citizen, not a sexual predator. "What," Fritz asked, "does a person who admits sexual abuse look like?"

And as for the victim dreaming up the incident at her eighth birthday, Fritz said the victim and Robert Briard "must be so close they are sharing the dream."