UPDATE – Curtis Leonard Sea was found guilty of five counts of child molestation. The verdict came late Tuesday afternoon after the jury had deliberated for one hour and 12 minutes.
By Jack Gurner
WATER VALLEY – Testimony began Monday in the sexual battery and rape of children trial of Curtis Leonard Sea who is alleged to have molested four young sisters ranging in age from two to eight.
The nine-count indictment was handed down by a Yalobusha County Grand Jury in June of 2007. Sea remained at large until August 15, 2008, when his photo appeared in the Herald with a plea for information about his whereabouts.
After receiving tips from the public, Water Valley Police and Yalobusha County Deputies captured Sea without incident on Hwy 32 East.
A pool of about 100 potential jurors was called to the courthouse Monday morning. One of those called was Sea’s brother who has a different last name. He was among the first to be dismissed.
The pool was systematically reduced to a jury of twelve with two alternates – seven men and seven women.
District Attorney John Champion and Sea’s court appointed defense attorney Larry Maxey made opening statements that were followed by testimony from the first witness, the mother of the girls.
She explained that she had become suspicious of Sea after the children exhibited some unusual behavior of a sexual nature. When questioned, the children said they learned it from Sea, who they call Curtis.
She said that she took the youngsters to Baptist Hospital in Oxford on Jan. 21, 2007, where they were examined. During that visit to the hospital, each girl was also questioned separately by a social worker.
Following the mother’s testimony, all four of the girls testified starting with the youngest who is now four. She leaned forward and said, “Hi,” as the District Attorney adjusted her microphone. He asked her what was her favorite game. “Tic-tac-toe,” she replied.
Champion then questioned the youngster about the incident and she responded to each query with a polite “Yes, sir,” or “No, sir.”
The oldest girl, now 10, was the last of the four to testify. Champion asked her what he and her mother had told her to do in court. She answered, “To tell the truth.”
When the District Attorney asked her if Sea was in the courtroom, she raised her hand and pointed to the defendant.
Water Valley Police Officer A. J. Hernandez was called to the stand. But, before he was seated there was a flurry of activity at the defense table. The jury was then removed from the courtroom.
Defense attorney Maxey told the court that the defendant believed he should represent himself.
Sea said, “I don’t need to be sold out.” He added that he didn’t believe his attorney was asking the right questions.
Judge Andrew Baker told Sea that Maxey was “doing what he needs to be doing.”
“I think he is doing a better job than you could be doing for yourself,” the judge said.
Sea appeared to apologize to Maxey and the trial continued. The jury was returned to the courtroom and Circuit Clerk Daryl Burney swore in Officer Hernandez.
Hernandez, who was wearing a military camouflage uniform, was asked by the District Attorney for whom he worked. The police officer said that he works for the Water Valley Police Department and is a member of the Army National Guard.
Hernandez recounted the events of Jan. 21, 2007, which started for him with a call from Lafayette County authorities to investigate a possible child molestation case.
Champion asked if the girls indicated they had been sexually molested.
Hernandez said that they did.
He then described the process used to record interviews with the girls. He said that two rooms were used. A social worker and one of the girls were in one room while he and two other social workers were in another. They were able to hear the interview and watch through a one-way mirror.
The District Attorney asked Hernandez to identify the contents of an evidence bag. The officer identified the four VHS videotapes. The tapes were then entered into evidence.
The defense objected to the tapes as “inadmissible hearsay” but was overruled.
A television was brought into the courtroom and placed so that the jury could see the screen and the first tape was played. In it the youngest of the victims made small talk with the social worker and then described in detail what had happened to her.
One female juror cupped her hands over her face and then moved them so that they just covered her nose and mouth. A male juror rubbed his forehead and closed his eyes. Another watched the screen and then looked across the courtroom in the direction of where Sea was seated.
When the tape ended, Judge Baker ended the session for the day and told jurors to be in the jury room at 8:30 the next morning. He warned them not to discuss the case with anyone and report anyone who tried to talk with them about the case. The jurors then filed out of the courtroom.
Sea stood up, looked through some papers on the defense table, and was escorted by two deputies to the county jail.