CAMP VERDE -- The trial of a former pastor charged with multiple counts child molestation wrapped up its second week Thursday. The state is expected to rest next week.
Thomas Chantry served as a pastor at Miller Valley Baptist Church in Prescott from 1995 to 2000. In 2015, a string of allegations emerged claiming that he abused and molested some of the children of the families in his congregation.
Both victim representatives and family members of the defendant have been present throughout the trial.
Chantry’s brother-in-law, Mike Rodgers, was asked to leave the courtroom by Judge Bradley Astrowsky after yelling out from the gallery. It was later reported that he made “quacking noises” at one of the witnesses in the parking lot.
‘They may not like what’s happening but their body response is normal’
State Prosecutor Susan Eazer called Forensic Interviewer Christina Schopen as an expert witness Wednesday to talk about the behavior of victims of sexual abuse.
Schopen said she is specially trained to get answers from abuse victims. She said has conducted more than 5,000 interviews in her career. Schopen is also author of the book: “When Your Child Discloses Sexual Abuse, A Step-by-Step Guide for Parents.”
Schopen was not involved in the case concerning Chantry and has never spoken to the alleged victims. She said she was simply there to inform the jury as an expert.
Schopen described a phenomena known as “delayed disclosure,” when a victim of abuse may take months or years to talk about what happened to them.
“Reasons could be fear of not being believed or fear of getting in trouble, or thinking they share the responsibility,” she said.
Schopen said feeling pleasure or experiencing an involuntary body response like an erection can also play into the victim internalizing a shared responsibility.
“They may not like what’s happening to them but their body response is normal,” she said. “This adds to the confusion.”
It can be especially difficult for a child, Schopen said, when the perpetrator of the abuse is a family member or friend.
“As a relationship is built, it makes it harder to report what happened,” she said.
‘I believe there are a lot of things I could have done better’
Former Prescott Police Officer Jessica Belling was also called to the stand Wednesday. She was assigned to Chantry’s case in 2015 when molestation allegations began to emerge.
She said a pastor at Miller Valley Baptist Church brought records from an investigation the church conducted on Chantry to the Prescott Police Station.
Belling said while interviewing one of the alleged victims on an incident where Chantry allegedly punched him during a 1995 Fourth of July celebration, she wrote that he had been punched in the face and chest.
Last week, the alleged victim testified that he had only been punched in the face. Belling said her report may have been inaccurate because it was over the phone and the interview was not recorded.
During a cross-examination, Chantry’s defense attorney, John Sears tried to claim that Belling’s investigation was prejudiced against Chantry, citing a recorded phone conversation between Belling and a deacon from First Baptist Church of Clinton in Louisiana.
The phone recording was not submitted as official evidence so the jury was dismissed while Sears played the recording for Astrowsky. Astrowsky determined that the conversation did not reveal any prejudice as it occurred well into the investigation.
“I don’t see how it’s relevant,” he said.
Sears later grilled Belling on things she failed to do during her investigation of Chantry.
Belling agreed that she did take some missteps during her investigation.
“I believe there are a lot of things I could have done better,” she said.
While admitting her mistakes, Belling also said it wasn’t her job to find evidence that “the defendant didn’t do it.”
‘It was something he had always known, but never talked about’
The mother of one of the victims was also called to the stand Wednesday to talk about a conversation she had with her son where she said he revealed to her that he remembered being molested by Chantry. He described being touched on the genitals by Chantry for about 10 minutes when he was around 4 years old.
“[Chantry] told me not to tell my parents,” he said during his testimony.
During her testimony, the mother said she had left Miller Valley Baptist Church in 2000 when she found out the church was doing an investigation on Chantry. She said she didn’t like how things were handled. At the time, her son had not yet told her that he remembered being molested.
She said her son told her about the incident in 2015 after returning home from a Bible camp.
“[He came back home and immedicably said ‘we need to talk,’” she said.
She choked up as she described “feeling sick” when he told her.
“My impression was that it was something he had always known, but never talked about,” she said.
During a cross-examination, Sears asked her if she could pinpoint an exact time of when she thought Chantry was alone with her son. She said that while she could not give a specific date, “there was plenty of opportunity.”
On Friday, another mother of one of the alleged victims was called to the stand. She described seeing bruises on her son’s body near his upper thighs and buttocks.
She said Chantry had been tutoring her son twice a week. She described one incident where she picked him up at Chantry’s home and noticed “he could hardly walk.”
“I felt sick,” she said. “I wasn’t sure what to do.”
She said that she never went to the police or took photos of the bruises but now wishes she had done so.
‘As soon as he found out he was under church discipline, he jumped ship’
Eric Owens, an elder at the church when the alleged abuse took place, described an incident during his testimony Friday where he approached Chantry amid allegations of abuse that began to emerge in 2000.
At the time, the church was conducting its own investigation. Police were not involved at this time.
Owens said he noticed that Chantry seemed distressed.
“[Chantry] said, ‘I’ve done something I can’t recover from,’” he said. “’ I spanked some kids and I may have taken it too far.’”
Owens said he tried to help Chantry reconcile with what he had done.
At the time, Owens said the church asked Chantry to apologize to the families. Owens said it wasn’t long before Chantry left the church.
“As soon as he found out he was under church discipline, he jumped ship,” Owens said.
The trial will continue Wednesday at 9 a.m. at Division 7 of the Yavapai County Superior Court in Camp Verde.
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