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Hung jury in Pa. man's molestation trial

August 26, 2010

     After nearly six hours of deliberation, a jury of eight women and four men was unable to reach a verdict in the trial of a Pennsylvania man charged with 15 counts of child molesting and 51 counts of sexual misconduct with a minor.
     Whitley County Circuit Court Judge James Heuer told the jury that it is uncommon to not reach a verdict, but it does occasionally occur.
     “I do respect the fact that you worked your best to reach a conclusion,” he said.
     After three-and-a-half hours of deliberation, the jury foreman reported the jurors were at an impasse on whether or not to convict 36-year-old Dustin W. Shenberger.
     In another half hour, the jury requested to hear the recording of the alleged victim’s hour-and-a-half testimony, after which jurors again deliberated, but to no avail.
     A new pre-trial conference will be scheduled to determine whether the case will go to trial again.
     Shenberger was charged with having a sexual relationship with a girl who was 13 and 14 at the time.
     On the final day of the trial, Sharon Persons, a family case worker with the Department of Child Services in Whitley County testified to Shenberger having violated a no-contact order in 2006 when he met the alleged victim in Whitley County.
     The order was in place amid a custody dispute and concerns from the alleged victim’s family that there was an inappropriate relationship between the girl and Shenberger.
     He testified he misunderstood the documents and thought it was not a violation if he met the girl in a public place. He also said he contacted her foster parents and received permission.
     The orders, however, say arrangements had to be made one week in advance with DCS and needed to be supervised.
     A family friend of the alleged victim said the girl picked up a package one day in 2005 that had a cell phone and tape recorder Shenberger sent.
     In his testimony, Shenberger said the sent the devices so the girl could have a way to contact someone if her living situation was not going well, and the recorder could be used to prove any verbal abuse.
     An adult friend who met Shenberger with the alleged victim said he felt their interaction was somewhat inappropriate.
     “It was strange how an adult and teenager were walking around like that,” he said of the duo who walked “shoulder-to-shoulder.”
     Other family friends and family of the girl also said they felt the behavior was strange.
     Shenberger’s ex-wife, Christine Barnes, said she thought some behavior of her ex-husband was odd during spring break 2004, when the girl and her sister visited Pennsylvania.
     Included in that was a preference to have the girl sit in the front of the car with him while Barnes, her infant daughter and the alleged victim’s sister always sat in the back.
     Shenberger tucking in the girls and kissing them on the cheek or forehead also seemed strange to her.
     Shenberger said he is simply an affectionate person and there was nothing inappropriate about it.
     Barnes also said that during a visit to Indiana, Shenberger said he and the girls were going to watch a movie one night in the living room and Barnes was not invited.
     Barnes did not learn of the allegations until Pennsylvania State Police contacted her in August 2008.
     In his testimony, Shenberger said he visited the local family farm without Barnes because he took out a large loan and assumed ownership of the farm, something with which Barnes did not agree.
     As for testimony from three people Tuesday who said they saw Shenberger and the alleged victim lying on the sofa in a “romantic” position at the Whitley County farm, he had no recollection.
     “I really do not remember those circumstances,” he said, but did not deny they occurred and did not say the others were lying in their testimony.
     He also said he did not remember an e-mail which his wife said she saw during a meeting of the Shenberger family in which Shenberger told the alleged victim he wished he was in Indiana so he could rub her legs since she said they were sore.
     Al Anzini, Shenberger’s attorney, said the alleged victim did not keep a consistent story and had no proof of any sexual contact.
     “She tried to add to it (the story) to make it worse,” he said.
     For Whitley County Prosecutor Matt Rentschler though, the testimony of those who saw the two on the sofa, the e-mails and other behavior pointed to an inappropriate relationship.
     “It is more proof that this indeed happened,” he said.

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