More often than not, criminal defendants do not take the stand in their own defense, for any number of reasons that could prove harmful to their case. Friday afternoon, Thomas Evan Cassas sat in the witness chair for an hour and 34 minutes on direct examination, but it wasn’t until an hour and 13 minutes into it that he and his defense attorney directly addressed the charges against him.
And it wasn’t until a few minutes after that when he admitted he molested his former stepdaughter in North Carolina 19 years ago, exactly as she testified to Thursday.
“I hurt (her), I did,” Cassas said.
He’s standing trial for committing similar crimes in Brunswick between 2005 and 2011, to a different stepdaughter from a later marriage.
Over the years, Cassas further admitted he lied to his brother, his current wife and his biological daughter — the alleged victim’s half-sister — about what happened in North Carolina in 2000 that led to his plea and conviction to two counts of sexual activity by a substitute parent or custodian.
He told them that he was cheating on this then-wife with another woman, and the girl walked in on them, told the account to a teacher, and a series of events then led to the plea.
But that wasn’t what happened. During a thorough series of questions and answers on cross-examination by District Attorney Jackie Johnson, Cassas worked to avoid saying explicitly what he did to the North Carolina victim, but repeatedly said that everything to which she testified was accurate.
However, he steadfastly denied committing similar crimes to the alleged victim in this case. Cassas said he was heartbroken and flabbergasted by the allegations made by the now-19-year-old last year. He said it’s his confirmed belief his ex-wife is behind the entire ordeal as leverage to make sure he can’t gain custody of his 15-year-old biological daughter, who several times expressed a desire to live with him and his new wife in a different state.
One theory the defense was not able to present with their evidence was whether the alleged victim erroneously substituted, in her memory, Cassas as the perpetrator of the alleged abuse. With the jury out of the courtroom, defense counsel Lynn Martin called Macon psychologist Chris Tillitski to the stand so the matter could be hashed out without otherwise creating a problem.
Martin and Tillitski discussed that the alleged victim accused one of her brothers of molestation around the same time Cassas allegedly began his inappropriate behavior with her, when she was six years old. Tillitski said there is a theory raised by a prominent expert in the field of child sex abuse psychology called perpetrator substitution, and that while the phenomenon was infrequently observed, she could have substituted Cassas in for the actual person who committed the acts against her, because her mind found it easier to emotionally handle.
Assistant District Attorney Thomas Buscemi moved that the testimony shouldn’t be allowed, in that it violated Georgia state rape shield law against the admission of evidence of prior sexual activity by a child in such a case. He said this was specifically spelled out and clarified in a state Supreme Court case from February of this year.
Further, Buscemi said there’s no firm scientific research on this theory, that all it amounts to is speculation based on anecdotes.
Martin said the prosecution didn’t have the right to block the testimony, and to do so would violate Cassas’ ability to present a complete defense and deny his constitutional right to due process.
Glynn County Superior Court Judge Roger Lane sided with the prosecutors, ruling the testimony must be excluded because of the state rape shield law, which he said passed constitutional muster.
The trial continues into Monday, with closing arguments scheduled for early in the morning.