Sex abuse trial begins in Nevada County Superior Court
After days of jury selection made even more painstaking by social distance requirements inside the courthouse, the trial of a Nevada City man on sex abuse charges got underway Tuesday morning.
Michael Sean O’Dell, 46, has been in custody since November 2018 on charges of sexually abusing two children, and is facing 45 years to life in prison if convicted. He’s pleaded not guilty.
On May 4, O’Dell’s defense attorney, Patrick Clancy, appeared by phone to hash out his trial issues with Superior Court Judge Robert Tice-Raskin and Deputy District Attorney Helenaz Hill. Tice-Raskin acknowledged during the hearing that holding a trial with social distancing guidelines would be problematic at best.
Because of the nature of the case, larger pools of potential jurors were called, and the process of jury selection took four days.
“The complexity of this trial is what made it last a little bit longer,” said Court Executive Officer Jason Galkin. “The nature of these types of cases make it harder for both attorneys to come to a jury they are both comfortable with. … We do have to cast a broader net, we need to ensure we get enough jurors in the door.”
And, according to Galkin, COVID-19 restrictions and fears have made it even more difficult to seat a jury.
“What we’re finding is, we’re having to summon two times the number we would historically for this type of case,” he said.
Because four alternate jurors were picked and the jurors were spread throughout the courtroom rather than sitting together in the jury box, there was no room for members of the public.
“We are limited on occupancy,” Galkin said. “We are live broadcasting (the proceedings) into another courtroom. … We are just doing our best to keep people physically separated, trying to take as many precautions as we reasonably can.”
During the first part of the day Tuesday, several members of the public were on hand to watch the proceedings via Zoom. But that solution proved problematic, at least initially, as only the judge was clearly audible. Galkin said such issues will need to be ironed out, hopefully with the use of some directional microphones.
During her opening statement, Hill told the jury the two victims were 6 and 8 at the time the abuse started and that O’Dell was a father figure to both girls. O’Dell, she said, entered the bedroom the two girls shared on multiple occasions and touched them sexually under the guise of tucking them in.
Hill told the jurors that some of the testimony they would hear dealt with “child sexual abuse accommodation syndrome,” which explains how some child sexual abuse victims react with secrecy, conflicted and unconvincing disclosure, and retraction or reversal of accusations.
O’Dell’s attorney opted to reserve his opening statements for the defense portion of the trial. Defense attorney Patrick Clancy is the founder of the Innocence Legal Team, which exclusively represents clients in sex crime allegations.
The first witness on the stand was the older victim, who is now 14. She had difficulty remaining composed and the trial recessed early for lunch. It resumed Tuesday afternoon and a full day of testimony is expected today.
Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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