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State v. Ogoffa

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

May 16, 2017

State
v.
Joseph Ogoffa.

         Providence County Superior Court (P1/08-1159A), Associate Justice Daniel A. Procaccini

          For State: Virginia M. McGinn Department of Attorney General

          For Defendant: Megan F. Jackson Office of the Public Defender

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

          OPINION

          William P. Robinson III Associate Justice

         The defendant, Joseph Ogoffa, filed a petition for issuance of a writ of certiorari before this Court, seeking review of his January 9, 2014 conviction in Providence County Superior Court on five counts of first-degree child molestation, in violation of G.L. 1956 §§ 11-37-8.1 and 11-37-8.2. On November 16, 2016, this Court granted his petition. The defendant contends that the trial justice erred in denying his motion for a new trial. He further posits that his "constitutional right to present a full and fair defense" was denied because the trial justice "unfairly limit[ed] his cross-examination of two witnesses."

         For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we affirm the judgment of the Superior Court.

         I

          Facts and Travel

         On April 11, 2008, defendant was charged by indictment with five counts of first-degree child molestation. A trial took place over four days in January of 2014.[1] We relate below the salient aspects of what transpired at that trial.

          A

         The Testimony of Sarah[2]

         Sarah, the complaining witness, testified that, at the time of trial, she was eighteen years old. She stated that, when she was six years old and in the first grade, her parents worked afternoon shifts and Sarah and her younger brother, Nicholas, would go to "Aunt [Pamela's]" house; Sarah added that Pamela was her mother's best friend.[3] Sarah testified that Pamela's mother, whom she called "Gramme, " would babysit her at Pamela's house. She stated that she loved Pamela and Gramme.

         It was Sarah's further testimony that, at the time in question, Pamela's son Joe (the defendant) was "old enough to be in high school or college" and that he did not come to Pamela's house "a lot." When asked to identify Joe at trial, Sarah identified defendant. It was her testimony that she remembered a time in September and October of 2001 when Joe came over to Pamela's house and "told [Sarah] to come with him to the bathroom." She stated that Gramme and Nicholas were in the living room at the time, but it was also her testimony that "sometimes" Gramme "do[z]e[d] off." She added that she told defendant "no" initially, but that she then did accompany him to the bathroom. Sarah stated that she was "[s]cared" because she "didn't really know who [defendant] was." It was further Sarah's testimony that, once inside the bathroom, defendant told her to lie down on the floor and that he proceeded to remove her pants and underwear. She testified that, after telling him to stop, she did not say anything further to him and did not scream because she was "scared." Her testimony was to the effect that defendant then put his penis into her vagina. Sarah added that defendant then told her not to tell anyone. It was further Sarah's testimony that she did not tell Gramme or her own mother about what had happened in the bathroom because she was afraid of "[g]etting in trouble."

         Sarah testified that, either the next day or a couple of days later, she was in the bathroom with defendant again and "the same thing happened." She added that she did not know why she went into the bathroom with defendant that second time. Sarah further testified that, on three further occasions, she was alone with defendant and "something happened." It was Sarah's testimony at trial that the third incident took place in a bedroom closet in Pamela's house because "[s]omebody was in the bathroom." It was her testimony that, on that third occasion, defendant "used his fingers." She also testified that the final two incidents took place in the bathroom and that defendant engaged in digital vaginal penetration on both of those occasions as well. Sarah's testimony reflected the fact that she did not reveal anything to anyone after any of the five incidents; she stated that she was afraid because "this was like a family, I guess." It was her testimony that she viewed defendant as a "family member;" and she answered in the affirmative when asked by the prosecutor if she "loved" defendant. Sarah testified that she continued to go to Pamela's house to be babysat for about a year after the assaults took place.

         Sarah proceeded to testify that there did come a time, while she was twelve years old, when she told her cousin, Leslie, about the assaults. She stated that she made that revelation to Leslie because she had gotten "into an argument with [her] parents about them not letting [her] go out and hang with friends" and she "got frustrated." It was her testimony that she asked her cousin "to keep [her] secret;" she stated that her reason for so doing was that "it happened six years before[, and she] didn't want to still talk about it after [she] told her [cousin]." Sarah testified that, at the time of her disclosure to her cousin, Cathy (Sarah's mother) and Pamela were no longer friends and had "drifted apart, " although they still saw one another at church. She added that Cathy and Pamela had "drifted apart" because Sarah's father, Cathy's husband, "didn't like their friendship." In Sarah's words, "[h]e thought they were too close." It was further Sarah's testimony that her cousin told Sarah's "oldest brother" about the assaults and that Sarah's parents eventually found out. Sarah testified that she spoke to the police the day after her parents "confront[ed]" her with respect to the assaults. She added that, "[m]aybe like a day or two after" she gave her statement to the police, she went to see a doctor. She was then asked at trial if she was sure that "[e]ach and every time of the five times that the defendant took [her] into the bathroom or the closet * * * it was Joseph Ogoffa and not one of his brothers?" and she responded: "I'm positive."

         On cross-examination, Sarah was confronted with the fact that she told the grand jury that the final assault was the one assault that took place in the closet-rather than it being the third assault which took place in the closet, as she testified at trial. She replied as follows:

"When I was in front of the grand jury I was twelve years old and it was very nerve wracking and I was very nervous. * * * At twelve * * * I had never been in a situation like this before. I never stood in front of people that don't know who I am that don't know my story, so I did say that at twelve but I'm saying this now and I know what I'm saying."

         She was also asked on cross-examination if there had been any blood in her underwear after the assaults, but she answered in the negative. She was further asked whether she told the doctors that the "fifth time was anally?" She responded: "No. Not that I recall, no."[4]

          B

         The Testimony of Cathy

         On cross-examination, Cathy, Sarah's mother, testified that she "never noticed any blood in [Sarah's] underwear when [she] did [Sarah's] laundry ...


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