Heard October 7, 2014.
Appeal From Pickens County. G. Edward Welmaker, Circuit Court Judge. Appellate Case No. 2012-213548.
Appellate Defender Lara M. Caudy, of Columbia, for Appellant.
Attorney General Alan McCrory Wilson and Senior Assistant Deputy Attorney General Deborah R.J. Shupe, both of Columbia; and Solicitor W. Walter Wilkins, III, of Greenville, for Respondent.
WILLIAMS, J. GEATHERS and McDONALD, JJ., concur.
[411 S.C. 335] WILLIAMS, J.:
Damon Tyler Brown (Appellant) appeals his convictions for one count of first-degree criminal sexual conduct (CSC) with a minor, three counts of lewd act upon a child, and three counts of first-degree sexual exploitation of a minor. Appellant argues the circuit court erred in allowing the State's child abuse dynamics and delayed disclosures expert to testify regarding general behavioral characteristics because her testimony (1) concerned information within the realm of lay knowledge, (2) improperly bolstered the minor victims' credibility, and (3) prejudiced Appellant's case. We affirm.
On November 20, 2012, the Pickens County Grand Jury indicted Appellant on one count of first-degree CSC with a [411 S.C. 336] minor, three counts of lewd act upon a child, and three counts of first-degree sexual exploitation of a minor. The case was called for a jury trial on November 26, 2012.
During the period of sexual abuse, between 2003 and 2006, Appellant lived with his sixteen-year-old girlfriend and her family, including her two brothers (Older Brother and Younger Brother), as well as her mother and stepfather, in a two-bedroom mobile home in Central, South Carolina. Older Brother was ten years old and Younger Brother was eight years old when Appellant first began touching them inappropriately around their private areas.
At trial, Older Brother described countless graphic incidents in which Appellant sexually abused him in the family's mobile home, testifying the abuse occurred almost daily until he was twelve years old. According to Older Brother, Appellant also abused Younger Brother during this time. Younger Brother corroborated Older Brother's recollections of Appellant repeatedly abusing them, testifying the abuse lasted until he was ten years old. Further, Younger Brother recalled one occasion when Appellant forced him to anally penetrate the boys' best friend (Minor Friend) in the bathroom of the mobile home. Minor Friend corroborated Younger Brother's testimony regarding the bathroom incident and testified Appellant sexually abused her and the boys in the mobile home on two occasions. According to the three minor victims, Appellant's only rule was they could never tell anyone what happened when he played with them. If the minor victims broke the rule, Appellant indicated they would get blamed for everything and stated he would " get really mad and something bad would happen."
Older Brother did not disclose the abuse to authorities until May 2009. Although Younger Brother initially refused to speak with law enforcement at that time, he later gave police a written statement describing the abuse in July 2009. Law enforcement then contacted Minor Friend, who described the abuse in a written statement in July 2009 and provided a more detailed account in an August 2010 statement. Older Brother testified he did not provide details about the other minor victims when he first reported the abuse because he thought everybody would hate him or be mad at him. Younger [411 S.C. 337] Brother testified he did not initially tell law enforcement what happened to him because he was embarrassed. Likewise, Minor Friend testified she thought people would blame her for not stopping the abuse and view her as " this disgusting little girl." Appellant extensively cross-examined Older Brother, Younger Brother, and Minor Friend regarding their delayed disclosure of the abuse, as well as discrepancies between the statements they gave to police and the testimony they offered at trial.
The circuit court then held an in-camera hearing to determine the admissibility of testimony from the State's expert witness, Ms. Shauna Galloway-Williams. After the hearing, the circuit court qualified Galloway-Williams as an expert in child abuse dynamics and disclosure, concluding her testimony was relevant and would assist the jury because the seated jurors " would not have any prior knowledge from family members or otherwise as to sex abuse directly."
Subsequently, Galloway-Williams testified she did not review any incident reports or statements associated with this case, never met with or interviewed the minor victims prior to trial, and was not present for their testimony during trial. In fact, her only
knowledge about the case came from discussions with the Solicitor's Office. According to Galloway-Williams, research indicates that between seventy and eighty percent of abused children delay disclosing the abuse into adulthood. Further, she stated children delay disclosing abuse for a number of reasons, including: (1) fear of consequences to themselves, the perpetrator, or someone the child loves; (2) the child's age; (3) the child's relationship to the perpetrator; (4) a lack of vocabulary or language to describe what has happened to them; (5) threats by the perpetrator; (6) grooming by the perpetrator; and (7) the perpetrator's normalization of the abusive conduct. Galloway-Williams further explained that most disclosures happen accidentally, and children generally reveal more details over time throughout the disclosure process. When children suffer chronic abuse, she stated it is more difficult for them to sort out the timing of individual incidents and the order in which they occurred. Galloway-Williams also explained that having a close and trusting relationship with the perpetrator can have a very strong impact on whether a child feels like he or she can [411 S.C. 338] disclose the abuse. Finally, she testified that child abuse victims will sometimes tolerate sexual abuse to maintain a relationship, particularly if the perpetrator is someone they love and trust.
During its closing argument, the State stressed that Galloway-Williams never met or interviewed the victims; rather, she only testified about symptoms of child abuse in general. The State then related the symptoms she discussed, including delayed disclosure, to those exhibited by the individual victims in this case. At the conclusion of trial, the jury found Appellant guilty of all seven counts. The circuit court sentenced Appellant to a total of 359 months incarceration: 176 months for first-degree CSC, 128 months for one count of lewd act upon a child, 55 months consecutive for one count of first-degree sexual exploitation of a minor, 55 months concurrent for each of the two remaining counts of first-degree sexual exploitation of a minor, and 128 months concurrent for each of the remaining two counts of lewd act upon a child. This appeal followed.
ISSUE ON APPEAL
Did the circuit court abuse its discretion by admitting testimony from the State's expert on child abuse dynamics and delayed disclosures regarding general ...