Hung jury in Tamaqua child rape case
After a day’s worth of testimony and four hours of deliberation, a Schuylkill County jury couldn’t come to a verdict in the case against Keith McFarland, 40, of Palmerton.
McFarland, then living in Tamaqua, was arrested Oct. 25, 2018, by Tamaqua Police Department Cpl. Thomas Rogers and charged with rape of a child, indecent assault, indecent exposure and corruption of minors.
Rogers was acting on information received from the Child Advocacy Center, which had then relayed its report to Schuylkill County Children & Youth, and county Assistant District Attorney Jen Foose.
The jury could not reach a verdict on any of the charges; it is up to the state to decide if the case will be retried.
According to testimony, the child reported the alleged sexual contact to her grandmother, who then took the child to the Child Advocacy Center. The girl, then 8, had begun to live with her grandmother in Bath in January 2018 and made the disclosure in October 2018, according to the grandmother’s testimony.
The child’s mother testified that she and her three children lived with McFarland in Tamaqua between late 2013 and fall 2015, moving out before the start of the school year.
The mother had started a new relationship with McFarland’s next-door neighbor, and the two moved to West Hazleton, staying together for about five months, according to her testimony.
The mother said she learned of the reported incident involving one of her daughters when the grandmother called her about it in October 2018.
One of the jurors, number 11, was dismissed after telling a court official that he was acquainted with McFarland’s neighbor. He was replaced by an alternate. The jury consisted of 11 men and one woman.
Testimony offered throughout the day by various witnesses was often contradictory. The child’s mother testified that while she lived with McFarland, the two never celebrated any occasions; McFarland testified that they had birthday parties for the three children.
The victim, now 9, testified that the incident took place when she was alone with McFarland, while her mother and two sisters went to McDonald’s, bringing her back a Happy Meal.
McFarland testified that although they had at times eaten at a McDonald’s, they had not brought McDonald’s food home to eat.
During her testimony, the victim, who has a developmental disability, clutched several stuffed animals.
Prosecutor Julie Werdt had her describe the elements of the picture she had drawn, purportedly depicting the incident, while she was being interviewed at the Child Advocacy Center.
The picture showed the victim on a table, with a sad face, with McFarland “touching his private part to her private part” and with a happy face and his hands in the air, according to her testimony.
Under cross-examination, defense attorney Christine Holman asked the victim what she was wearing that day; the victim replied that she wore long jeans, a shirt and socks.
The victim had testified while being questioned by Werdt that after the alleged attack, she had run to the upstairs bathroom, pulled up her pants and hid in her room.
Werdt also called Dr. Marla Farrell, who examined the victim in October 2018. She said she had found no sign of trauma or lesion but added that would be common since two or three years had passed.
After the prosecution rested, Holman made a motion to dismiss the rape of a child and indecent assault charges, pointing out inconsistencies in the child’s testimony.
President Judge William E. Baldwin denied the motion. Werdt made a motion to amend the charges to include attempted rape of a child, and Baldwin approved the amendment.
In his testimony, McFarland said he broke up with the child’s mother when she started to see the neighbor.
McFarland, who has worked night shift for the past six years, said he had on one occasion called the police for assistance in finding the woman, after he came home to an empty house and she would not respond to cellphone calls.
He testified that he didn’t know the victim had any issue with him at all.
Asked by Holman if he had done anything to the victim, or would ever hurt a child, McFarland replied, “No, I did not,” and “No, I have a son of my own.”
Lack of evidence
In her closing, Holman said that the evidence did not support the charges.
“There’s so much doubt, and difficulty in trying to put it together,” she said. “This did not happen.”
“Her jeans are (pulled) down, and she runs up the steps to the second floor bathroom – doesn’t make sense,” Holman added. “It defies logic that this young girl would be on a tabletop where you would have a clear visual from the front door.
“All you have is testimony and that testimony doesn’t make sense,” she said. “You have a working man (McFarland) going about his life, and all of the sudden he winds up here.”
Werdt said that the strength of the commonwealth’s case was the testimony of the child. Referring to the picture the child drew, Werdt said, “That was in her memory. How do you make this up? If this didn’t happen, you can’t produce it (the drawing).”
The jury began deliberations at about 3:45 p.m., asked the judge to repeat definitions of the charges at 4:30, reported inability to reach a verdict at 6:15, continued deliberations until 8 p.m. and returned to the courtroom. The foreman reported that “nothing had changed” in the jury’s inability to reach unanimous decisions. With the jury deadlocked, Baldwin declared a mistrial.
After the verdict, Werdt declined to comment. Holman said the case was “an uphill battle from day one, but obviously there were some jurors who did not believe my client to be a monster.”