Jury trial in child sexual assault case begins
Bikers Against Child Abuse provides support
BENNINGTON — As a little girl waited in a room of the Bennington Superior Court to testify against her alleged abuser, approximately two dozen motorcyclists stood in the hallway.
The Albany chapter of the Bikers Against Child Abuse (B.A.C.A.) showed up Wednesday for the beginning of the jury trial of Richard McLauchlan, a Bennington man accused of repeatedly sexually assaulting a young girl in Bennington between 2015 and 2016. The girl, now 8, did not yet get a chance to testify due to extensive testimony by other witnesses, but is scheduled to testify Thursday morning, and B.A.C.A. will be back to accompany her.
McLauchlan, 32, was arrested in late January 2018, and on Feb. 1, 2018, he pleaded not guilty to repeated aggravated sexual assault of a child and aggravated sexual assault of a child under 13 years old.
Both charges are felonies, and if convicted, McLauchlan faces no less than 25 years to life in prison for the first charge. If convicted of the second charge, he faces a minimum of 10 years or a maximum of life in prison.
During the trial Wednesday, jurors listened to multiple witnesses give their testimony: Detective Anthony Silvestro of the Bennington Police Department, who was the local investigator for the case; the child's grandmother, with whom she currently lives; McLauchlan's ex-girlfriend, who lived with McLauchlan and the victim during the time frame of the alleged abuse, and an out-of-state child abuse investigator who interviewed the victim three times in 2017.
In an affidavit, Silvestro wrote that he was provided with a video recording of an interview between a 7-year-old girl and a child abuse investigator. The child, who now lives out of state, told the investigator that McLauchlan sexually assaulted her several times and that she did not feel safe near him.
The child described one incident in which McLauchlan took her to the doctor to be treated for her injuries, and he told doctors she had fallen over a fence. The child said McLauchlan "was trying to trick the doctors," the affidavit states.
When interviewed by police in November 2017, McLauchlan denied any wrongdoing.
On Wednesday, McLauchlan was represented by Defense Attorney Thomas Enzor. Alexander Burke is the prosecutor for the case.
The grandmother testified that the victim told her "out of nowhere" about the abuse in late summer 2017, after the victim had moved from Bennington to her grandmother's home in the south. The grandmother said after the victim told her, she immediately called her pastor and the pastor called the state Department of Children and Families, who conducted three interviews with the victim during September and October 2017.
During the child abuse investigator's testimony, these three recorded interviews were shown to the courtroom. While the victim disclosed more information with each interview, she was still very tentative with her disclosure and showed embarrassment and hesitancy when asked to describe where McLauchlan allegedly touched her.
"It's just hard to say it," said the victim in one of the interviews.
The victim also said in an interview that the abuse happened "like four or five times," but could not remember the exact number.
The victim is expected to testify Thursday morning as McLauchlan's trial continues. She will testify from another room and the testimony will be shown by live video to the jurors. Just as on Wednesday, the bikers will stand in court outside the room the victim will testify in and give her support. It is expected that the jury will reach a verdict on the case Thursday.
B.A.C.A.'s stated intention is to create a safer environment for abused children, who often feel scared and guilty and may have fear of testifying against their abuser.
"We desire to send a clear message to all involved with the abused child that this child is part of our organization, and that we are prepared to lend our physical and emotional support to them by affiliation, and our physical presence," states part of B.A.C.A.'s mission statement on its website. "We stand at the ready to shield these children from further abuse. We do not condone the use of violence or physical force in any manner, however, if circumstances arise such that we are the only obstacle preventing a child from further abuse, we stand ready to be that obstacle."
B.A.C.A. has a central contact person to receive calls from referring agencies and individuals that determine that a child victim is frightened by his or her environment. An agency representative contacts BACA, and the name and address of the child is given to a B.A.C.A. Child Liaison. This liaison verifies the case has been reported and authorities have been contacted, and then an "initial ride" is organized to meet the child at a location where they feel comfortable. The child is given a vest with a B.A.C.A. patch and the bikers typically visit with the child about half an hour.
Following this initial contact, the child is given the contact information of two B.A.C.A. members who live closest to them, and these members become the child's primary contacts.
These bikers are cleared for participation by passing an extensive background check, have ridden with the chapter for at least a year, and have received special instructions from a licensed mental health professional.
Any time the child feels scared, they can call the bikers to come to their house and provide necessary reassurance so the child feels safe and protected. B.A.C.A. can also provide escorts for the children, ride by their homes on a regular basis, support them at court, attend the child's interviews, and stay with the child if they are alone or frightened.
B.A.C.A. members never go to the child's house alone or without permission of the parents. "Our mission is not to be permanently engaged as the child's power," states the site. "Our mission is to help the children and their families learn how powerful they can be. Our presence will be available as long as the child needs us."
Christie Wisniewski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and at 802-447-7567, ext. 111.
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