Testimony shows Abril case 20 years in making

Published 5:01 pm Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Judge Zorro Guice Jr. in Haywood County Superior Court.When former Polk County Sheriff Chris Abril pleaded guilty this week to two felony charges, it brought an end to a case that goes back nearly two decades.

During a superior court hearing in Haywood County Monday, N.C. State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) agent Mark Buchanan gave testimony about the history of the case. He said it all began with allegations that Abril kidnapped and sexually abused a girl then 11 years old.

Also testifying for the state was Dr. Mark Everson, a psychologist with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Medical School Department of psychiatry, who specializes in child trauma. Everson testified that the two victims handled the incidents very differently, with one victim having control over her &dquo;relationship&dquo; with Abril, and the other victim being &dquo;exploited.&dquo;

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Defense attorney Stephen Lindsay called three people to the stand in support of Abril, all saying Abril has never acted inappropriately towards children and is a wonderful father and coach. Lindsay also spoke of Abril&squo;s flawless record, which includes no criminal charges and not even a speeding ticket.

State prosecutor Senior Deputy Attorney General James Coman Monday told Judge Zorro Guice Jr. when Abril was first accused of sexual offenses with one of the girls on Oct. 4, 1989, Abril &dquo;was scared straight and it never happened again, but that doesn&squo;t mean he gets a pass on this one.&dquo;

SBI agent Mark Buchanan testified that when his office was asked to look into allegations in 2006, he learned of a previous investigation by the SBI that spanned from July 19, 1990 through June 24, 1991.

The following is a timeline of the case as outlined by Buchanan in the sentencing hearing Monday (see also timeline on front).

Oct. 4, 1989

Buchanan said during his investigation he learned that on Oct. 4, 1989, victim Wendy Forrester&squo;s sister, Lisa Poteat, had reported that she witnessed Abril kidnapping Forrester and taking her away in a pickup truck. After she reported the incident to Forrester&squo;s parents, the family searched for their child and later found her at the home of the second victim, Monica Wilson, who was Forrester&squo;s friend and cousin.

That night, the family went to the Polk County Sheriff&squo;s Office and reported that Abril had kidnapped and sexually abused Forrester. At some point in time, Buchanan said, the sheriff&squo;s office relinquished its investigation. Sometime in July, 1990, about eight months later, officials received a complaint from Forrester&squo;s mother that nothing had been done about the case, according to Buchanan.

Dec., 1989

Buchanan said his investigation revealed that Forrester approached the Polk County Sheriff&squo;s Office and gave a note to a dispatcher that asked for help and said she had sexual relations with Abril. The dispatcher gave the note to then Columbus Police Chief Billy Stepp, Buchanan said.

July 16, 1990

Buchanan said on July 16, 1990, then District Attorney Alan Leonard initiated an investigation with the SBI, in which then agent Kelli Carlton, now agent Kelli Scronce, investigated beginning on July 19, 1990.

Buchanan reported that agent Scronce interviewed Forrester on three occasions and the reports were that Abril began having sexual relations with her beginning when she was 10 years old.

The SBI report indicated on Forrester&squo;s first occasion, she and Wilson were playing around the defendant&squo;s house and the defendant asked Wilson to go inside and requested Forrester stay outside. Forrester told investigators that she remembers standing on a trash can and seeing Abril and Wilson having sexual relations on the bed. Forrester was then taken inside with Abril where she had her first sexual encounter, Buchanan said of the initial investigation.

The second time with Forrester, Buchanan said, was when she was at Abril&squo;s house alone with him and the sexual relations occurred on the living room couch.

The final time, Buchanan testified, was on Oct. 4, 1989, when Abril took Forrester in his truck. Forrester told investigators then that Abril picked her up, supposedly to go to a soccer event, and he led Forrester into a wooded area where they had sexual relations.

Buchanan also reported that during the initial investigation, Wilson refused to be interviewed and later Wilson&squo;s family refused to allow Wilson to be interviewed.

Agent Scronce interviewed Abril at the time, and Buchanan reported that Abril denied in the interview having sexual relations with either of the girls. According to Buchanan, Abril described his relationship with the girls as more like siblings and also said that Forrester had never been in Abril&squo;s home.

Buchanan also testified that Forrester was asked to draw a sketch of the inside of Abril&squo;s home and Buchanan testified her sketch was &dquo;remarkedly close&dquo; to a sketch he had also done of the inside of Abril&squo;s home.

June 17, 1991

Buchanan spoke of Forrester&squo;s undisciplined behavior since the first allegations and there were reports of her becoming reportedly suicidal and having emotional problems. Forrester ran away from home on several occasions, including the night of Oct. 4, 1989, when the first allegations against Abril arose.

Buchanan said on June 17, 1991, D.A. Alan Leonard declined to prosecute Abril following Scronce&squo;s investigation, citing Forrester&39;s emotional state and that there was only one cooperating victim.

Feb. 25, 1994

Buchanan said that on Feb. 25, 1994, a letter to the editor written by Forrester, then age 16, regarding her allegations was published in the Tryon Daily Bulletin. Coman asked if Forrester named Abril in that letter, and Buchanan responded that she did, but the newspaper decided not to use his name, using rather the term &dquo;local law enforcement officer.&dquo;

April 10, 2006

Buchanan said his investigation began on April 10, 2006 with several interviews with Forrester. Buchanan reported that her stories were consistent with the earlier SBI investigation.

&dquo;She felt like she was a consenting party to these sexual relations,&dquo; Buchanan testified.

He also said according to his interview, Forrester reported being upset and running away the night of Oct. 4, 1989. She said it was because voices were raised at the sheriff&squo;s office and she thought it was because of her, Buchanan said.

Buchanan said he also interviewed Wilson, who was extremely reluctant to get involved, but she did say she engaged in &dquo;multiple sexual relations&dquo; with Abril between the summer of 1987 and July, 1988.

&dquo;She (Wilson) confirmed he took her in and took Wendy in,&dquo; Buchanan said of the last occasion that Wilson said she was with Abril. &dquo;She became mad because she felt like over that year she had a relationship with him and was upset he was now involved with Wendy.&dquo;

Buchanan also testified that the state contacted three people Forrester had reached out to in the early 1990s, including a then ninth grade schoolmate of Forrester&squo;s, a school teacher and a department of social services employee. Buchanan said they all recalled Forrester disclosing that she was involved with Abril, then an officer with the Polk County Sheriff&squo;s Office. The DSS worker remembered that Forrester was between the ages of nine and 11 at the time, Buchanan said.

Psychiatric evaluation of victims

Dr. Everson, a professor in the department of psychiatry at UNC-Chapel Hill, testified that during the 2006 investigation, he interviewed both Wilson and Forrester. Everson has been a pychologist for 24 years, with an expertise in assessing child trauma, child sexual abuse and forensic evaluations of child sexual abuse. He said he has testified as an expert witness between 40 and 50 times.

Everson said although the girls experienced similar types of abuse, they have also since led different lifestyles. He said Wilson came from an intact, seemingly functional home, while Forrester came from a more troubled family, with a disabled and verbally abusive stepfather and a mother who worked two jobs.

Wilson was older, physically attractive and socially confident, Everson testified, while Forrester was younger, less mature and more needy. Everson described Forrester as a larger child who wasn&squo;t popular, was shy and who described herself as an &dquo;ugly duckling.&dquo;

In describing each victim&squo;s relationship with the defendant, Everson said Wilson described the relationship as special and one that made her feel grown up. Forrester viewed the relationship as special at first, but then felt she had no control over it and felt exploited.

Forrester told Everson that she learned at age 10 that sex got attention from older men. Both victims described Abril as tall and handsome and said that getting attention from him was special.

Everson also testified that Wilson terminated her relationship with Abril after he was with Forrester, and Abril tried several times to get back with her but Wilson refused. Everson said Wilson showed feelings of guilt, but did not score anywhere as high as Forrester did in that area on the psychological evaluation.

Forrester expressed feelings of shame and guilt, self-loathing and experienced low self-esteem, Everson testified.

&dquo;Wendy has always shown a fight in her by repeatedly going to authorities about this,&dquo; said Everson.

Forrester has struggled throughout her life, including dropping out of school and marrying at age 16 a man who was about twice her age, Everson said. Everson described that marriage as abusive.

Lindsay cross-examined Everson and said Everson is making an assumption that everything the girls were telling him was true. Everson responded that what they said was an important part of the evaluation, but a standardized evaluation was also done.

Lindsay asked what Everson charged per hour and the answer was $250. Everson said the state&squo;s bill from the UNC-Chapel Hill department for the evaluation is in the range of $11,000.