In March 1995, 31-year-old Donald Letcher was charged with two counts of sexually molesting his girlfriend’s 9-year-old daughter in Bridgewater, South Dakota.
The girl told police that from August 1992 until July 1993, when Letcher was living with her mother, Letcher forced her to fondle his penis virtually every night that her mother worked the nightshift.
Letcher went on trial in Minnehaha County Circuit Court. On the morning of the trial, the prosecution made a motion requesting that the girl’s mother testify that Letcher had difficulty maintaining an erection and often manipulated himself to keep an erection. The judge denied the motion after the defense argued that evidence of an alleged sexual dysfunction had not been disclosed by the prosecution prior to trial.
The girl testified that the abuse began in August 1992 when she was eight years old and continued after she turned nine until July 1993 when Letcher moved out. She said Letcher rubbed her chest and made her rub his penis in a circular motion and that he never ejaculated.
The girl’s mother testified that when Letcher lived with her, the girl often had nightmares. She said that whenever she worked, Letcher cared for the girl and the girl’s two younger brothers.
Letcher testified and denied abusing the girl. He testified that he believed the girl had invented the allegations or been coached because her mother and her father, who lived elsewhere and was in a relationship with another woman, were in a custody battle. He also denied having any problems with sexual functioning.
The defense called a clinical psychologist with an expertise in sex abuse cases who testified that based on the girl’s testimony, he believed that the abuse never happened. He pointed to the custody battle, the girl’s use of sexual terminology not generally used by children, the claim that she rubbed Letcher’s penis in a circular motion instead of up and down, and the claim that Letcher never ejaculated.
After the defense finished presenting its case, the prosecution moved to recall the girl’s mother to testify that Letcher had trouble getting an erection. The defense objected, but the judge allowed the testimony.
The defense then asked for a recess to call a former girlfriend of Letcher. The defense said the woman would testify that Letcher had no sexual dysfunctions and they had an active sex life. But the judge refused to allow a delay in the trial.
The defense recalled Letcher to the witness stand and he told the jury that he had no sexual problems with the girl’s mother or his girlfriend.
In June 1995, the jury convicted Letcher of two counts of sexual contact with a minor. He was sentenced to five years in prison.
In July 1996, the South Dakota Supreme Court reversed the conviction. The court noted that the case turned on the credibility of witnesses and that refusing to allow the former girlfriend’s testimony “severely prejudiced Letcher’s ability to defend against these charges.”
In August 1996, the prosecution dismissed the charges and Letcher was released.
– Maurice Possley