SCOTTSBLUFF — Testimony in the trial of a Scottsbluff man wrapped up on Wednesday with the defendant, Jimmy Darnell, taking the stand, denying accusations that he sexually assaulted a 5-year-old girl.
Allegations stem from a 2012 incident, according to testimony in the trial that began Monday. The girl told police she had been staying overnight at Darnell’s home when she alleges that he touched her and sexually assaulted her.
According to testimony at trial, the girl is also reported to have made a statement at a Scottsbluff restaurant that she had been touched by the man. Her parents did not contact authorities, at that time, and allegations surfaced in 2018. Authorities charged Darnell in May 2019 with charges of first-degree sexual assault on a child less than 12 years of age, a Class IB felony; and sexual assault of a child, third degree, Class IIIA felony.
Asked by his attorney Maren Chaloupka if he had touched the girl in a sexual manner or sexually assaulted her as described in testimony by the girl, he answered “No” each time.
He described having to defend himself against accusations he had sexually assaulted the girl as “very hard. The hardest part is not being able to have contact with (the girl) and very little contact with (her brother.) They were a big part of our life before,” he said.
The assault is alleged to have occurred when the girl stayed overnight with Darnell and his wife, a common occurrence for the girl, her sibling and cousins.
Darnell, his wife Calleen and other relatives of the girl took the stand, testifying about the sleeping arrangements during those sleepovers. Calleen Darnell testified that the couple would lay out air mattresses, which she described as “part of our furniture” because of their frequent usage. Calleen Darnell said she would sleep with the girls, while Jimmy would sleep on a separate mattress with the boys. The couple and the children who took the stand all testified that sleeping arrangements were always the same and also testified that the girls all wore matching pajamas.
Other members of the family also testified about vacations and the other events that the Darnells enjoyed together through the years prior to 2018.
Chaloupka argues that there are inconsistencies in the allegations from the girl and her mother. The girl is attempting to please her mother, she says, in making the allegations as the couple divorce. The girl’s father testifying for the defense, described his daughter as a “people pleaser.”
“She is one of those girls who loves to make people happy,” he said. “She is a people pleaser. She is a great little girl.”
When the girl first stated that Darnell “had touched her” during dinner at a restaurant, he said, “It was very weird. Not specific.” The girl’s mother had testified that the girl had said, “down there” or made some motion to her genital area, according to the questioning, but her father denied that account. He called it “an isolated, random remark.”
However, though he said the girl was not specific about how she had been touched and the couple did not question her further, he said he and his wife were concerned. The couple did not discuss it at the restaurant, he said, but agreed that “it was serious, so serious.” He said that the couple decided that the girl would no longer be allowed to stay overnight at the Darnell’s and that they would be watchful of the girl.
Though his wife asked if they should contact police, he said he felt they didn’t have any specific detail to act on. He said he has questioned his decision, but at the time, his thinking had been: “If there is anything truthful or not truthful, we have to protect her, but at the same time, protect (Jimmy Darnell),” he said.
The man had told his wife he would talk to Darnell about the allegations, he said, however, he never did. He did testify, as the girl’s mother had, that they had enjoyed gatherings, vacations and that the Darnells had even babysat the girl on occasion though the couple had agreed to monitor the girl. He did not approach Darnell, he said, because he was embarrassed to bring up the allegations and he respected the man.
The man claimed his wife brought up the sexual assault allegations after telling him, suddenly, that she wanted a divorce. He said he had been surprised by a sudden change in the woman, describing it “like a switch flipped,” described her as becoming obsessed in 2018 with working out and spending a lot of time at a local gym. In May 2018, he said, she told him during a phone conversation that she was thinking about moving out. She pointed to concerns that Darnell had never protected her daughter or her as the reasons for wanting to end the relationship, he said.
He says he had been caught off guard, because the couple never fought. He described them as “relaxed, so happy.”
In a text message exchange, the couple argued about the sexual assault allegations on May 1, 2018. Prior to the text message exchange, he said, the woman had given him the news that she wanted to move out of the couple’s home. It was some time before the woman did move out, but the couple did separate over the summer of 2018. Throughout his testimony, he described himself as fighting for his marriage, including urging the woman to go to counseling. The woman would not go to couple’s counseling, but did go on her own during a family trip to Colorado that he described as a last ditch effort to save his marriage.
That trip resulted in the allegations being reported to law enforcement, according to his testimony. He testified the woman brought up her concerns to the counselor, unintentionally, and the counselor said she would have to report the allegations.
The man testified that sexual assault allegations had not resurfaced because the girl had viewed a presentation on “good touch, bad touch” at school, as testified by the girl, her mother and other witnesses, but that he had made up that story to explain to Jimmy and Calleen Darnell that an investigation would result because of that counseling session. He said the woman feared reprisal and he came up with a story to protect her. Asked by prosecutor Dave Eubanks if it was a coincidence that the girl had viewed a presentation in the weeks before his wife told him she wanted to move out, he said that it must have been.
He testified that he did not defend Darnell in text messages with his wife that discussed the sexual assaults, he said his responses were based on the woman becoming upset and threaten to take the children. In one text message exchange, expressed that “not everyone needs to know (the girl) had been molested” occurred because he was angry his wife had told others about the allegations. However, on cross examination, when asked why records of text messages between the couple did not show threats regarding the children, he said he was sure there were text messages and that the couple also spoke and argued on the phone.
Closing arguments in the case will be held Thursday morning.