Chantry Trial Week 3: Defendant testifies, expert witness details circumstances of ‘honest false memory’

Thomas Chantry took the stand in his own defense on Friday with prosecuting attorney Susan Eazer at left. VVN/Vyto Starinskas

Thomas Chantry took the stand in his own defense on Friday with prosecuting attorney Susan Eazer at left. VVN/Vyto Starinskas

After nearly two weeks of testimony, the state rested its case Wednesday in the trial of a former Prescott pastor charged with multiple counts of child molestation.

Chantry takes stand, denies victim accusations in assault, molestation trial

By VYTO STARINSKAS

Staff Reporter

Thomas Chantry took the stand in his own defense Friday in the trial of the former pastor accused of multiple counts of child molestation dating back to more than two decades. The trial wrapped up its third week Friday.

Chantry, 47, was indicted on five counts of child molestation and three aggravated assault charges. He is accused of committing these offenses more than 20 years ago while he worked as a pastor at Miller Valley Baptist Church in Prescott.

During opening questions Friday morning by Chantry’s defense attorney, John Sears, Chantry denied assaulting the alleged victims in the case. “No, I did not,” Chantry answered five times in a row to each of his attorney’s questions.

Chantry left Prescott 10 years ago and became a pastor in Wisconsin. He was arrested in 2016 and extradited back to Arizona. Since then, his trial has been rescheduled and canceled multiple times.

In opening arguments, prosecuting attorney Susan Eazer outlined occurrences where she said Chantry disciplined the children of the families in his congregation. The discipline eventually turned into abuse and molestation, she said.

However, Sears on Friday asked Chantry about a key incident in the case that occurred on the Fourth of July after Chantry was hired as minister at the Miller Valley Baptist Church.

In earlier testimony, one of the alleged victims said, “All of us kids had a water fight. [Chantry] said ‘don’t anyone squirt.’ I squirted him and he balled his fist and hit me.”

“No, this did not happen,” Chantry said Friday.

Chantry said he was not “upset” at the annual Fourth of July celebrants who had gathered outside of the parsonage that was his home next to the church, but was “frustrated.” Being the son of minister, he described growing up in a parsonage from the age of 10 where his family did not have much privacy. That, he said, contributed to his frustration with the children.

The minister said he never grabbed anyone, never threatened anyone, and only spoke loudly to get the children to stop spraying large squirt guns near older church members. He was trying to get children to move to the parking lot, he testified.

The minister’s attorney asked Chantry to describe his experiences in ministry school and the frequent visits he made to the Miller Valley Baptist Church in Prescott before he applied and received the job in 1995.

Chantry said that church members badly missed the former long-time minister, so much so that they would cry when he walked up to the pulpit.

He said it was tough for some of the families in the congregation to see a new minister move into the former pastor’s home. Some, he said, were hostile and would walk away from him.

“I took it personally,” he said.

Chantry was 24 years old at the time, and questioned if he made a mistake in accepting the job at the Miller Valley Baptist Church.

Testimony in Chantry’s trial will continue Tuesday in Division 7 of the Yavapai County Superior Court in Camp Verde.

The trial of Thomas Chantry, a former pastor at the Miller Valley Baptist Church in Prescott began on July 24 and is expected to last up to four weeks. State prosecutor Susan Eazer began by calling alleged victims and their parents to the stand to detail what they say were patterns of sexual abuse.

Chantry’s attorney, John Sears, requested acquittal of his client citing Rule 20, which deals with aggravating factors of the State failing to meet a burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

Judge Bradley Astrowsky denied the motion.

‘Memory is a belief of what happened’

The defense presented video testimony Thursday of Deborah Davis, a social psychology professor at the University of Nevada, Reno. According to her website, Davis has done research on witness memory, false confessions and issues of sexual consent.

Davis testified that details of memories from childhood are not always clear.

“If you get further from the event, the original memory starts to fade,” she said.

She also noted that memories can be influenced by new people and new information. She cited examples of cases where witnesses talk to each other, and therefore influence one another.

In her testimony, Davis said memory follows the focus of attention.

“Life experience leads them to interpret what they see,” she said.

She cited research concerning “honest false memories” where a person recalls something that did not happen, but they still believe it did.

Davis continued, “Memory is a belief of what happened.”

During a cross-examination, it was revealed that Davis has often appeared as an expert witness on memory since 2003. She also said that she has only been retained by the defense in these cases, although she has served as a consultant for prosecuting counsels

According to Davis, she was paid $3,000 for her video testimony.

Eazer further grilled Davis on her definition of rape.

“I don’t view all sexual abuse a violent crime of rape,” Davis said. “I think it is a crime but it’s not always violent.”

She continued by citing research saying that sexual abuse is not always traumatic.

It was revealed that Davis has never interviewed a child of sexual abuse in her career.

‘Tom asked for [his] forgiveness’

The defense called Don Lindblad, a Seattle-area pastor with the Association of Reformed Baptist Churches  to the stand to talk about his relationship with Chantry and events centering on a phone conversation Chantry had with one of the alleged victims.

Lindblad, who said he is a friend of Chantry, said one of the alleged victims tried to contact Chantry.

“Initially, [Chantry] was hesitant,” he said. “He asked if I would contact [the alleged victim] which I did.”

Lindblad said Chantry agreed to have a phone conversation with the alleged victim and Lindblad listened in. He said the phone conversation strictly concerned spankings that happened during tutoring sessions. There was no mention of bare-bottom spankings or molestations, he said.

“[The alleged victim] indicated that he would like resolution,” he said. “Tom asked for [his] forgiveness. {The alleged victim] gave him forgiveness.”

During a cross-examination, Eazer cited notes that Lindblad had taken during the phone conversation that noted the alleged victim did not challenge Chantry’s recollection of events.

Eazer’s questioning got more heated during the cross-examination. She later said during jury dismissal that Lindblad was purposefully evading her questions. Astrowsky agreed but also threatened to report Eazer to the Arizona State Bar for “invoking Christianity to get him to answer questions.”

“You crossed the line,” he said. “We will not invoke religion and connect it under such veracity.”

Eazer defended her action citing Lindblad’s position in the church and whether he would bend the truth.

“This wouldn’t be appropriate in any other case,” she said.

Comments

Comments are not posted immediately. Submissions must adhere to our Use of Service Terms of Use agreement. Rambling or nonsensical comments may not be posted. Comment submissions may not exceed a 200 word limit, and in order for us to reasonably manage this feature we may limit excessive comment entries.

Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.