State rests, defense begins calling witnesses in Miller County rape trial

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The defense in the trial of a 23-year-old Texarkana man accused of sexual misconduct as a teen with a younger female relative.

The alleged victim, now 14, testified Tuesday that Costello Byrd repeatedly assaulted her in bunk beds at his family’s home when she visited between ages 3 and 7. The girl’s mother testified Wednesday that she was leaving the Four States Fair in 2014 when her daughter made an outcry of abuse.

The mother said she had run into her daughter’s aunt, who lives in the Texarkana, Ark., home where Byrd allegedly assaulted the girl, while at the fair. The mother said the aunt told her that her daughter had misbehaved by rifling through a bedroom and by pouring water in Byrd’s bed. The mother said her daughter, then 10, told her Byrd had sexually abused her after she asked her about her behavior at the relative’s home.

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The mother testified under questioning by Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Kristian Robertson that after the report was made to Texarkana, Ark., police, her daughter’s relationship with many members of her family ceased.

Odia Russet, nurse practitioner, testified that she performed a sexual assault examination on the girl at the Texarkana Children’s Advocacy Center in 2014. Russet said she noted a linear discoloration which could have been a scar consistent with a sexual abuse allegation.

Physician Matthew Nix testified under questioning by Prosecuting Attorney Stephanie Potter Barrett that the alleged victim’s mother brought her to him for treatment in 2008. Nix said the girl, then 4 and during the time she was allegedly being abused by Byrd, had swollen genitals for which he prescribed medicine to treat a yeast infection. Nix testified the mother did not suspect sexual abuse at the time and he did not examine her for evidence of it.

Melanie Halbrook, who formerly worked at the Texarkana Children’s Advocacy Center as a forensic interviewer and who currently works in the same position at a Children’s Advocacy Center in Benton, Ark., testified that she conducted a forensic interview of the alleged victim in 2014, under questioning from Robertson. Halbrook said the girl reported sexual abuse by Byrd from ages 3 to 7.

Under cross examination by Hot Springs defense attorney Joe Churchwell, Halbrook was grilled about the relationship between Children’s Advocacy Centers and law enforcement, intimating that the interviews are biased. Halbrook said her role is to provide an open and non-threatening environment for a child to tell their story.

The state rested its case following Halbrook’s testimony. One witness for the defense was questioned Wednesday before Circuit Judge Carlton Jones put the jury in an evening recess.

The alleged victim’s aunt, at whose home Byrd was living during the years he allegedly abused the girl, testified under questioning from Hot Springs attorney Brent Miller that the girl never spent the night in Byrd’s bedroom or in bunk beds as the alleged victim testified Tuesday. The aunt said the girl either slept with her or in the room of another girl living in the home.

The aunt said the walls in the home did not muffle sound well and claimed that the bunk beds the girl claims to have been repeatedly assaulted in had been removed from the room during most of the years the girl claims she was assaulted in them.

Barrett showed the aunt a transcript of testimony she gave at a pretrial hearing where she stated that the bunk beds were in the home.

Testimony is expected to continue from defense witnesses Thursday morning at the Miller County courthouse. If found guilty of rape, Byrd faces 10 to 40 years or life in prison.

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