LACLEDE COUNTY, Mo. — A local pastor accused of statutory rape and statutory sodomy saw the first day of his second trial, on Monday.
Travis R. Smith came to court on April 18, 2016, as proceedings got underway in front of Judge Kenneth Hayden, presiding in Courtroom D on the second floor of the Laclede County courthouse. Special Prosecutors Michael Gilley and Douglas Kinde, both of Camden County, represented the State of Missouri.
The case is being heard in Laclede County on a change of venue, after an earlier attempt ended abruptly when the defense counsel requested a mistrial because a potential member of the jury made comments about the defendant within earshot of other potential jurors.
Defendant Smith, represented by Shane L. Farrow of Jefferson City, faces multiple felony charges of Statutory Rape and Statutory Sodomy arising out of incidents that allegedly occurred while Smith acted as youth pastor at a church in Pilot Grove, Mo. Attorneys Gilley and Farrow conducted the Voir Dire examination of the potential jury panel, agreeing upon twelve jurors and one alternate before noon.
Several procedural items were taken care of at this time. Smith, through his attorney, Farrow, waived his right to jury sentencing. Also, both the defense and prosecutor waived sequester of the jurors. Further, Judge Hayden explained that “The Rule” had been invoked, meaning that no listed witness could be in the courtroom while another witness gave testimony.
After the noon recess, Judge Hayden gave the jury specific instructions in the case. Following that, Special Prosecuting Attorney Gilley made his opening statement to the jury outlining the set of events leading to charges against Smith. Jessica Bockelman, a 16-year-old sophomore in 2005, was a member of the Pilot Grove church’s youth group. She allegedly had an increasingly physical affair with Smith culminating in several sexual liaisons before she reached the age of consent. In Missouri, that age is 17.
Defense Counsel Farrow waived his opening remarks until a later time.
Special Prosecuting Attorney (SPA) Gilley called Jessica Bockelman to the stand as the state’s first witness. Gilley took Bockelman through the events of the summer of 2005 as she attended youth group meetings in the church with several friends as well as additional Bible study sessions with Smith. Gilley referred to Bockelman’s sports involvement at school as she participated in track, softball and basketball, competing at the state level as well as an elite track meet in Australia. Leading Bockelman through the dates for each sports season and specific events established the timeline for Smith’s alleged advances in relation to Bockelman’s 17th birthday, which would occur in November of 2005.
Bockelman’s mother was the second witness for the state followed by Cpl. Eric Stacks of the Missouri Highway Patrol, who served as the criminal investigator on the case. Stacks explained that the Patrol had become aware there was a potential victim who might have had a relationship with Smith. This victim was identified as Jessica Bockelman. Stacks explained he located and interviewed Bockelman during the criminal investigation in 2012. According to Stacks’ testimony, Bockelman described in detail specific sexual acts and offered events during the summer of 2005 as memory hooks, making the timeline specific as to her status as an underage female prior to her November 17th birthday.
The final state’s witness for the day was Dennis Bockelman, father of Jessica. Earlier testimony had established that Dennis Bockelman had found Jessica’s car parked in a remote location near an old church building, and on a later date, he said he found his daughter Jessica with Smith. Dennis Bockelman said he then confronted Smith and told him to leave Jessica alone.
During cross examination by the defense, Farrow questioned closely the specifics of each witness recollection as to the actual events and timeframe. With each witness, some ambiguity could be found as to what exactly happened and upon which exact date it occurred. But no witness appeared to be shaken in his or her testimony.
Both attorneys advised the judge they believed the trial could be concluded in two days. Since the jury was not sequestered, Judge Hayden gave very specific instructions to the jurors as to the potential damage of discussing the case with anyone at all as they went home for the night.
As Judge Hayden explained, if jurors hear information about a case outside the courtroom, either from news sources, internet, others on the jury panel, or neighbors at the coffee shop, those statements were not examined in the courtroom. Furthermore, attorneys for the State and the defendant had no opportunity to refute the statement nor offer additional points of view or counter testimony by other expert witnesses.
Hayden explained having a juror make a decision about a defendant’s guilt or innocence based upon unverified information is extremely unfair to both the State and the defendant in a criminal case, where both sides have expended time and money to have a fair and impartial trial.
The trial will continue through Tuesday, and a verdict is expected either late Tuesday or on Wednesday.