NORMAN — Two women who testified Thursday proved to be difficult witnesses for prosecutors in the child sex abuse trial of former University of Oklahoma professor Dwain Pellebon.
The two women, who at times appeared hostile toward prosecutors during questioning, are the mothers of two of Pellebon's alleged victims.
The women are Filipino and are friends and associates of the defendant's wife, who also is from the Philippines.
During testimony Thursday, jurors glimpsed the complex social circle of the Filipino women who live in the Norman area.
Pellebon is accused of multiple sex crimes against children, including one girl who is apparently mentally disabled. He was arrested in December 2011 by Norman police and resigned his position as a social work professor soon thereafter.
Prosecutors have painted Pellebon as a predator who groomed multiple children in his social network, often taking them to the movies or paying them to do chores to gain their favor.
Alleged victims and their parents will not be named by The Oklahoman to protect their identities.
Multiple young girls have said the former professor made them feel uncomfortable by unwanted touching, but none reported being touched in a sexual manner by Pellebon.
The fathers of two of the alleged victims testified Wednesday that Pellebon made them feel uncomfortable due to his strange requests and the amount of attention he paid to their young daughters.
Yet the two mothers who testified Thursday — both of whom were called by prosecutors — seemed to do little to help the state's case.
Both women appeared to have trouble remembering prior testimony they gave, which painted Pellebon in a negative light. At times, both women also appeared hostile toward the attorneys prosecuting the case.
One woman, whose daughter was allegedly stroked by Pellebon while she slept at his Norman home in 2009, showed little concern about the incident.
“If somebody would stroke your hair ... I don't know if that's a big deal,” the woman said.
When asked by prosecutors why she stopped allowing her daughter to visit the Pellebon home after she found out about the hair-stroking incident, the woman said she was more concerned about the “gossip” in the Filipino community.
The mother said Pellebon and her daughter were very close and that the defendant was like a “second father” to the girl. She said her daughter would often confide in Pellebon and tell him “secrets.”
She said when rumors began circulating about Pellebon and her daughter, she decided the girl should probably stay away from the defendant's home “for the meantime.” She denied the decision had anything to do with Pellebon stroking her daughter's hair.
“We don't want people to make talk ... against my daughter for being so close to (Pellebon),” the woman said.
The same mother said she never saw Pellebon do anything inappropriate and seemed reluctant to recall testimony she gave on prior occasions that cast a negative light on the defendant. She frequently said she couldn't remember details or couldn't understand the question she was being asked.
Jurors also learned about a group of Filipino women who live in the Norman and Oklahoma City areas. Witnesses described two groups of women with roots in the Philippines.
According to witness testimony, the “mother hen” of one of the social groups has long had it out for Pellebon and his wife, though it was never made clear as to why.
One of the women who testified Thursday also revealed that speaking about sex with children is a touchy subject in Filipino culture.
“We don't discuss that,” she said.
More witnesses continued Thursday to express discomfort with prosecutors and how they have conducted themselves during the investigation of Pellebon.
The mother of the girl whose hair was stroked by Pellebon said she and her husband were frustrated with prosecutors because they would seek to separate the children from their parents for questioning.
Prosecutors said they like to separate children from their parents during questioning so the parents don't interfere with the process. In the end, the parents were allowed to accompany their children during questioning, testimony revealed.
Cleveland County District Judge Tracy Schumacher said the trial is expected to last until next week.
Pellebon, who once helped train DHS workers, has been free on bail since shortly after his arrest.