David Harold Earls case: Evidence fell short in abuse

VALLERY BROWN AND ANN KELLEY Published: June 21, 2009
Copyright © 2009

McALESTER — The 4-year-old girl who told her family and investigators she was sexually assaulted by David Harold Earls said he gave her ice cream and excused her from taking naps afterward.

But the girl’s statements and evidence that she and her brother had injuries consistent with child sexual abuse wasn’t enough to take to trial, attorneys said.

Earls, 64, pleaded no contest on May 13 to charges of rape and forcible sodomy of the girl, an agreement reached by prosecutors and his defense attorney. He was sentenced to a year in prison with 19 years suspended. Because the judge took into consideration time already served, Earls is scheduled to be released Sept. 24 from the Pittsburg County jail.

The girl’s grandmother called law enforcement in September after the girl said Earls sexually abused her, court records show. Her 5-year-old brother told his grandmother he’d witnessed Earls touch his sister in appropriately. He said Earls had told him to do the same to his sister.

"What he did to my grandchildren shouldn’t have been done to the meanest dog in town,” the children’s grandmother said Friday.

Child abuse examiners testified in the preliminary hearing that both children had injuries.

The children’s grandmother said her family hoped Earls would have received more jail time, but agreed with the sentence to spare the children any more trauma.

"We were over a barrel because of the children’s inability to testify with any consistency,” the grandmother said. "One minute they would be OK with testifying, and the next minute they would want to play or be crying to get out of the courtroom.”

She said her daughter and the children have moved out of state.

"Their mother wants them to just move on,” the grandmother said.

Earls declined to be interviewed on the advice of his attorney, Tim Mills.

The sentence spurred a national uproar when Fox network’s "The O’Reilly Factor” broadcast segments criticizing everyone involved in the case, in particular District Judge Thomas Bartheld and Pittsburg County District Attorney J.B. Miller, whose assistant district attorneys tried the case.

The children’s mother said Friday that she doesn’t blame the judge or the attorneys in the case for its outcome. She said she doesn’t think Bartheld deserves to be reprimanded.

She said it became apparent her children were not capable of testifying. Each time they were questioned about the abuse, the children had behavioral problems.

"For my children this was the best deal,” the mother said.

Victim as a witness
Mills said those questioning the outcome don’t understand the legal system or the evidence code.

"At first glance it started to be a strong case for the prosecution, but after they got the forensic report they found out it wasn’t as strong as they thought,” Mills said.

He said a main witness for the prosecution, the girl’s 5-year-old brother, recanted earlier statements made to a social worker.

When interviewed by a social worker, he became upset upon seeing anatomical drawings of boys. He then said he didn’t recall being touched and refused to talk any further when asked if he’d been made to do anything inappropriate, records show.


NewsOK.com has disabled the comments for this article.


Read House Resolution 1065

Court records show history

According to court records:

→The sexual acts took place between May and August 2008.

→On Sept. 25, the grandmother of the girl told investigators the girl grabbed her breast while sitting at the kitchen table for dinner. She questioned the girl, who said that Earls had sexually abused her at her mother’s house. The girl’s brother also said he’d witnessed Earls abusing his sister. The grandmother called the Pittsburg County sheriff’s office and then McAlester police.

→Earls was initially charged with one rape complaint, two forcible sodomy complaints and one complaint of lewd or indecent proposal or acts to a child under 16.

Earls’ prior convictions
1983: Received a five-year suspended sentence in Pushmataha County for shooting with intent to kill.

1992: Convicted in Pushmataha County for second-degree burglary. He was sentenced to five years in prison.

1996: Convicted of assault with a deadly weapon in Hughes County. There he stabbed a woman in the stomach with a pocket knife. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison but was released in 2003 for medical reasons.



AT A GLANCE

Judge Thomas Bartheld


• Bartheld, 51,

became an associate district judge in Pittsburg County in 1995. He won 61 percent of the vote.

→Weeks after being sworn in, Bartheld presided over the placement hearing of Ryan Luke, the toddler whose death has since paved the way for more stringent child abuse laws. Bartheld granted custody of Ryan to his grandfather, Don Luke, while his mother and her boyfriend were under investigation for child abuse. Ryan died from injuries suffered after his grandfather returned him to the boy’s mother.

→A 1995 case of Bartheld’s was overturned in 2009 by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. Judges ruled that a death row inmate, Charles Taylor, did not get a fair trial because of errors made by Bartheld and attorneys in the case. The Denver-based appellate judges called Bartheld’s instructions to jurors "legally defective” and determined that the instruction had an injurious effect on the jurors’ verdict.

→In 2005, Gov. Brad Henry named Bartheld as the district judge in the 18th Judicial District that includes Pittsburg and McIntosh counties.



J.B. Miller


Miller, 49, worked in private practice as an attorney before being appointed as district attorney. He earned a bachelor’s degree in business management from the University of Oklahoma in 1982 and received his law degree from Oklahoma City University in 1989.

2002: Appointed by Gov. Frank Keating to fill vacated District 18 district attorney seat. Lost in the general election to Democrat Chris Wilson, 63 percent to 37 percent.

2006: Wilson left for a position with the U.S attorney for the Eastern District of Oklahoma. Gov. Brad Henry appointed Miller district attorney. Miller filed as a Democrat for the general election. His rival, George Burnett, was found by the state Election Board to not be a qualified resident, leaving Miller unopposed.

2009: In May, Miller testified before a state grand jury over allegations he improperly subpoenaed records from the Internet site McAlester Watercooler. Miller declined comment on the investigation, but previously told The Oklahoman he thought posts made to the site were criminally libelous.

Trending Now


AROUND THE WEB

  1. 1
    Angels' Garrett Richards suffers patellar injury
  2. 2
    Former OU football star De'Mond Parker released on bond in gang case
  3. 3
    Report: Under Armour offers Kevin Durant rich deal
  4. 4
    SeaWorld pulls staff from water in killer whale shows
  5. 5
    Troubling Report Finds Children Are Getting Killed Once They're Deported From U.S.
+ show more