Court upholds child's video testimony in abuse case

March 3, 2008 3:05:36 PM PST
A state appeals court upheld a 2005 law that allows children to testify by videotape if doing so in open court would cause them further harm or hinder their ability to speak truthfully. The state Superior Court, in keeping with the U.S. Supreme Court, said the state's interest in a child's welfare trumps a defendant's right to confront witnesses face-to-face.

The case involves four young sisters who were regularly brutalized by their aunt and her boyfriend, a mentally ill drug addict. The youngest child, 3-year-old Porchia Bennett, died in 2003 after she was beaten and thrown against a wall, trapped between a bed and radiator.

Psychiatrists told a Philadelphia judge that forcing the surviving girls, ages 4 through 10, to testify in front of the defendants would cause further harm and perhaps impair their ability to testify truthfully and accurately.

"The child could be so frightened that (she) really wouldn't be able to talk effectively," Assistant Philadelphia District Attorney Hugh J. Burns Jr. said Monday.

The girls instead gave videotaped testimony before trial under questioning from prosecutors and defense lawyers. The defendants watched the testimony on a remote monitor and could consult with their lawyers during breaks.

The unanimous Superior Court ruling, issued last week, upholds the third-degree murder and conspiracy convictions of the aunt, Candice Geiger.

David Rudenstein, a lawyer who represented Geiger on appeal, did not immediately return a call for comment Monday.

Geiger, now 22, is serving a 17- to 34-year prison term. Her boyfriend, Jerry Chambers, 36, was sentenced to death in 2005. Geiger's sister Tiffany Bennett, 32, is serving a 20- to 40-year term for child endangerment, abandonment and conspiracy.

The case prompted an overhaul of the city's Department of Human Services, which had received a tip before Porchia's death that the girls were in danger.


Load Comments