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State v. Watkins

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

June 13, 2014

Roger Watkins

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Present: Suttell, C.J., Goldberg, Flaherty, Robinson, and Indeglia, JJ.


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Suttell, Chief Justice.

We are confronted in this case with the tragic, yet all-too-common scenario in which an adult in a position of authority uses that authority to engage in an inappropriate and illicit sexual relationship. The defendant, Roger Watkins, appeals from a Superior Court judgment of conviction, having been found guilty by a jury of six counts of first-degree sexual assault and four counts of second-degree sexual assault, for which he was sentenced to fifty years, with twenty-five years to serve and twenty-five years suspended, with probation. On appeal, the defendant argues that the trial justice erred in: (1) admitting evidence concerning prior acts of misconduct committed by the defendant against the complainant; (2) allowing an examining physician to testify to statements made by the complainant during the course of her treatment; and (3) denying the defendant's motion for a new trial. For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we affirm the judgment of the Superior Court.


Facts and Procedural History

On November 23, 2010, a Providence County grand jury returned an eleven-count indictment charging defendant with seven counts of first-degree sexual assault and four counts of second-degree sexual assault on the complaining witness, Jessica.[1] In May 2012, a trial was held in Providence Superior Court, during which the state presented six witnesses: Rodrick Shepard, Jessica's high school classmate and boyfriend; Patrolman Christopher Owens, a Providence Police officer and high school resource officer; Dr. Amy Goldberg, a pediatrician at Hasbro Children's Hospital; Lisa, Jessica's mother; Jessica; and Detective Christopher Rotella of the Providence Police Department. We summarize only the testimony pertinent to this appeal.

Patrolman Christopher Owens

Patrolman Christopher Owens of the Providence Police Department testified that in February 2010, he was the school resource officer at Hope High School. He testified that he maintained an office at the school and acted " as a resource to students." Due to the nature of his position, Ptlm. Owens had regular contact with the students at the school and, as a result, he became familiar with both Rodrick Shepard and Jessica. Patrolman Owens testified to an incident that occurred on February 23, 2010. He testified that he was in a meeting in his office when " [a] couple of teachers' aides came in and told [him] that there was a disturbance in the parking lot," and he responded immediately.

When he arrived outside, he saw defendant yelling at Shepard and noticed that defendant " was pretty upset." Patrolman Owens asked what was going on, to which defendant replied " that his daughter should have been home * * * she should not have been in school." The defendant further explained to Ptlm. Owens that " he was in the shower at home and when he got out he noticed that she was gone" and, when he saw Jessica and Shepard in the parking lot " he thought that she may be bunking school."

Having defused the situation between defendant and Shepard, Ptlm. Owens testified that he saw Jessica in the parking lot

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with two school administrators; she appeared to be upset, and he " could tell that she was crying." While in the parking lot, Jessica told Ptlm. Owens that " if I go back home with [defendant] he's going to beat the hell out of me." Thereafter, Ptlm. Owens testified that he wanted to speak with all parties involved, so he had Shepard accompany the administrators while he spoke to Jessica and defendant alone in his office. Once back in his office, defendant refused to sit down, was yelling and using profanity, and was still visibly upset. Patrolman Owens testified that Jessica refused to look at defendant or answer any questions while he was in the room.

Shortly thereafter, Ptlm. Owens summoned the school psychologist, Mrs. Clarke, to speak with Jessica. Patrolman Owens testified that Mrs. Clarke is " a confidante to the kids in the school," and " sits in with just about every case * * * where they have female students." After Mrs. Clarke arrived, Ptlm. Owens had defendant transported to the administrator's office. With defendant out of the room, Jessica " broke down * * * hid her face in her hands and she started to cry uncontrollably." The defendant was arrested shortly thereafter, and Jessica was brought to the Providence police station to give a written statement.

Doctor Amy Goldberg

The state next called Dr. Amy Goldberg, a pediatrician at Hasbro Children's Hospital and the supervisor of the Child Protection Program, a program that evaluates children who are potential victims of maltreatment. She testified regarding the results of a March 3, 2010 examination that she performed on Jessica. Much of Dr. Goldberg's substantive testimony involved her examination of Jessica, during which Jessica recounted a lengthy history of sexual abuse at the hands of defendant. Doctor Goldberg testified that Jessica reported that the sexual abuse started around the time she was fourteen-years-old, when defendant would touch her over her clothes. Eventually, this touching progressed to touching underneath the clothes and digital/vaginal penetration. When Jessica was approximately sixteen-years-old, the abuse progressed to penile/vaginal and oral/vaginal penetration. Doctor Goldberg testified, over defense counsel's objection, that Jessica said that she became " increasingly more afraid" during this period when the sexual assaults were taking place. In addition to Jessica's increasing fear, Dr. Goldberg testified that " there [were] other forms of * * * more subtle fear and feelings of fear * * * in regards of not being able to * * * go to school."

Doctor Goldberg testified that Jessica told her that, when the digital penetration began, it was in the context of Jessica pretending to be asleep and being too afraid to tell defendant to stop. Jessica told Dr. Goldberg that the sexual encounters progressed and that defendant would tell her that she could not go to school unless she would perform sexual acts. Doctor Goldberg testified that at the time of the examination, Jessica was less than three weeks removed from the most recent sexual encounter with defendant. During that most recent encounter--vaginal intercourse--Jessica said that she had complained of pain and asked defendant to stop, but he refused. Doctor Goldberg further testified that, based upon her evaluation, she had concluded to a reasonable degree of medical certainty that there had been vaginal penetration. She then testified that she recommended Jessica for follow-up treatment, although she did not specify the nature of the treatment.

Jessica's Mother

Jessica's mother, Lisa, testified that she met defendant in 1983 and the two began

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dating shortly thereafter. By 2006, she and defendant were living in an apartment in Providence with their three children, as well as Lisa's daughter, Jessica. She testified that by this time she and defendant were no longer dating; however, they continued to live together because " [h]e was there to help take care of the kids." Lisa testified that defendant came into Jessica's life when she was a baby. As part of taking care of the children, defendant would " take them out to places[,] * * * buy their clothes, feed them," as well as stay involved in their sports and activities.

Lisa also testified at length about defendant's role as the household disciplinarian. Lisa herself was not involved in the disciplining of her children because she " was easy on the kids so [defendant] didn't like the way I disciplined [Jessica] so he took over." This discipline, which was referred to in the household as being " on punishment," involved " whip[ping] the behind," keeping Jessica in her room without access to the phone, computer, or television, and not allowing her to date or see her friends. Lisa testified that, while Jessica was " on punishment," defendant treated her differently from the way he treated the other children; for instance, he required her to do the other children's chores around the home. The defendant would also keep Jessica home from school while she was " on punishment," sometimes for days on end, and would force her to watch two to three hours of television with him at night. Lisa testified to a specific instance in which Jessica attended a baby shower with her boyfriend, Shepard; defendant did not approve of Jessica and Shepard's relationship, so he " kept her out of school for like a week."

Lisa testified to seeing defendant wrestling with the children from time to time; she added that, after one particular wrestling match, Jessica complained to her that defendant had grabbed her breasts. She testified that she did not think much of her daughter's complaint, and that, apart from the wrestling incident, she was unaware of any of the allegations by her daughter against defendant until after his arrest in February 2010.


The complainant, Jessica, testified at length about her relationship with defendant. She testified that she remembered defendant moving in with her family when she was approximately eleven-years-old, and that he lived with them virtually the entire time up until his arrest in February 2010. Jessica testified that defendant was involved in her " whole life, like everything that [she] did," including her schooling. Jessica testified that, when she started at Hope High School in 2006, defendant would frequently check on her attendance, often dropping by the high school at random to see that she was attending class and to talk to her teachers to make sure she was completing her work. In addition to monitoring how Jessica went about her schooling, defendant also took control over where and when she went to school. Jessica testified that, although she started at Hope High School, she " was getting in so much trouble" that defendant removed her to Adelaide High School midway through her sophomore year. While at Adelaide, Jessica began dating a boy, Kelvin. However, defendant did not approve of her dating, so he ordered her not to contact Kelvin, kept her out of school, and ultimately transferred her back to Hope High School.

Although she testified about defendant's role in her school life, the bulk of Jessica's testimony revolved around defendant's role as the household disciplinarian, which started " as far back as [she could] remember." This involved defendant doling out punishment, such as confining Jessica to

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the house, taking things from her, and forbidding her to be in contact with her friends. Further, as part of her punishment, Jessica was required to watch twenty hours of television with defendant each week; defendant would write down and keep track of the number of hours. Jessica testified that, with the exception of a brief period around Halloween when she was in the tenth grade, she was " on punishment" for " three years straight," all through the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grades. Jessica also testified to alleged acts of corporal punishment and sexual conduct that took place at the hands of defendant during this time period--the testimony about which partially forms the basis of the instant appeal.[2]

With respect to the corporal punishment, Jessica testified to an incident in which she was using defendant's daughter's phone to talk with Kelvin--which defendant had prohibited her from doing. She testified that when defendant found out she had used the phone, " he came in the room and then he slapped me * * * kept telling me shut up," and " [p]ut his hands around my neck and put me up against the wall." [3]

Jessica also testified to uncharged sexual conduct; specifically, instances of " play fighting" that took place between her and defendant in which he would " [g]rab [her] in [her] vagina or chest." She testified that " [f]or as long as [she could] remember" she and her little sister would " play fight" with defendant two or three times a week, which would consist of them " attack[ing] him * * * trying to restrain each other and trying to hold him down." However, Jessica also testified that, when they would " play fight," defendant would grab and hold her vagina and breasts over her clothing. Although ...

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