Sexual assault case highlights effect of new lawIt took only one witness to bind a rural Arkansaw man over for trial Monday in Pepin County Court, thanks in part to a relatively new state law that allows hearsay evidence at preliminary hearings.
By: By Chuck Rupnow, The Leader-Telegram, Eau Claire, Wis., Superior Telegram
DURAND - It took only one witness to bind a rural Arkansaw man over for trial Monday in Pepin County Court, thanks in part to a relatively new state law that allows hearsay evidence at preliminary hearings.
Allen D. Owens, 43, is charged with a felony count of repeated sexual assault of the same child and 13 felony counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm. He also is charged with three felony counts each of intimidating a witness and bail jumping and a count of attempted bail jumping.
Owens appeared Monday on the bail jumping and intimidation charges. Judge James Duvall, based solely on the testimony of sheriff's Deputy Trevor Rud, ruled there was enough evidence to continue the charges against Owens.
While prosecutors have routinely produced as many witnesses as they believe necessary, oftentimes including victims and juveniles, at preliminary hearings, the new enactment allows officers to speak for the victims and others during preliminary hearings.
State Act 285, passed in 2011, allows hearsay evidence to be admissible at a preliminary hearing. The law also specifies a court may base its finding of probable cause in whole or in part on hearsay evidence.
Before Act 285, hearsay evidence could be used at a preliminary hearing only to establish property ownership, a victim's lack of consent to entry upon or destruction of private property, or certain elements of identity theft crimes, according to the Wisconsin Legislative Council.
Pepin County District Attorney Jon Seifert said preliminary hearings now are more streamlined, and oftentimes witnesses don't need to be concerned about having to testify twice (at preliminary hearing and trial).
"In some of the more terrible cases, the victims no longer have to be concerned about possibly going through an emotional meat grinder twice," Seifert said. "It is beneficial because they would only have to appear once in a public forum to testify."
Seifert said the legislation might alter defense strategies.
"I can understand how defense attorneys are frustrated because a preliminary hearing used to be a legitimate way for them to examine how well or poorly witnesses testified, which ultimately might impact their defense strategies," he said.
Deputy Rud on Monday described how Owens made calls three times in July from the jail to the mother of the girl he allegedly assaulted. Owens also sent letters to the woman. He was ordered by the court not to have any contact, verbal or written, with the woman.
Duvall also rejected Owens' request to have his bond reduced from $25,000 cash.
According to court records:
A girl told police Owens had been sexually assaulting her for several years, beginning when she lived in Menomonie and continuing when she moved to Pepin County. She said Owens continually "hounded" her and sexually assaulted her at times every day for weeks.
On June 18 police learned Owens was planning to return to Missouri. They stopped the bus he was driving, and the attached trailer, on Highway 37 near Eau Claire. Owens said he was headed to St. Louis.
In the trailer and bus, police found 10 rifles of multiple calibers, two 9 mm handguns and numerous metal ammunition boxes full of ammunition.
Owens is charged in Dunn County with three felonies related to sexual assault of a child. His initial court date there is Sept. 4.
Rupnow can be reached at 715-830-5831, 800-236-7077 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
(c)2012 the Leader-Telegram (Eau Claire, Wis.)
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