Controversy over expert testimony, "victim grooming," in Scannell case

By KBJR News 1

July 3, 2014 Updated Jul 3, 2014 at 5:24 PM CST

Duluth, MN NNCNOW.com) - A pre–trial hearing in the high profile sexual misconduct case against Cook County Attorney Tim Scannell has revealed that an expert may be called in to discuss the concept of "victim grooming."

During Thursday's hearing, prosecutor Tom Heffelfinger said in June he had hired a Licensed Psychologist with an expertise in criminal sexual conduct cases to review the amended complaint, and without meeting this case's alleged victim, formulate a professional opinion on whether there were instances of "victim grooming" in this case.

Scannell is currently facing two counts of fourth degree criminal sexual misconduct for an alleged inappropriate relationship with a Grand Marais girl under the age of 18.

Whether Scannell held a position of authority over the alleged victim at the time of the alleged incidents is a major part of this case.

Under Minnesota law, anyone 16 and up can consent to sexual activity. However, if the victim is 16 or 17 and the other party is, say, a coach or considered a "father figure," then that would be illegal.

Defense attorney Joe Tamburino says the expert is not relevant in this case, since "victim grooming" is most commonly an issue in cases involving minors--much younger than the alleged victim in question--withholding information.

"Grooming is in situations where you have, say, a 10–year–old, a 12–year–old child, who has suffered some abuse, and for two years they might not have mentioned it," said Tamburino outside St. Louis Co. court in Duluth, "so, a psychologist comes in and talks about why that might be the case. And that's not the issue here."

Tamburino added that this case's alleged victim, now an adult, will be able to explain her actions clearly to the jury without an expert's opinion.

However, prosecutor Heffelfinger says the expert can explain to a jury the varying degrees of victim grooming that exist, depending on victim's age, for example.

He also said that the expert has identified what she considers multiple instances of victim grooming in Scannell's case.

Judge Shawn Floerke is reviewing both the prosecution and defense's statements on the matter.

Whether the expert will be a part of the trial will be decided by Floerke sometime mid-next week.

Billy Wagness
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