COLUMBIA CITY —The jury in the second trial of a Pennsylvania man accused of sexual crimes against a minor heard opening statements, and the first testimony, before the trial’s opening day came to a close early Tuesday evening.
Dustin W. Shenberger, 36, of Mercersburg, Pa. is accused of child molestation and sexual misconduct with a minor in connection with incidents that allegedly happened between him and a local woman, now 19.
The alleged victim was 13 and 14 years old when the alleged incidents occurred.
On Aug. 25, a jury of eight women and four men deadlocked after six hours of deliberation, failing to reach a verdict.
Whitley County Prosecuting Attorney Matthew J. Rentschler took the podium in front of the jury of nine women, three men and one male alternate and began his opening statement.
“Dustin Shenberger exploited a child who was tragically vulnerable,” said Rentschler.
“She was tragically vulnerable and Dustin took advantage.”
The tragedy Rentschler referred to reads like a blueprint for lifelong therapy.
The alleged victim’s mother died when she was seven years old.
Following the remarriage of her father, problems began to arise with the girl’s father and new stepmother, which culminated in the girl leaving the custody of her biological father, being separated from her biological sister and being placed in foster care.
Defenders for Shenberger began targeting the alleged victim’s credibility, as evidenced by the opening statements of co-counsel for the defendant, Al Anzini.
“What she’s going to tell you, if she sticks to her story,” Anzini said, “doesn’t make sense.”
The woman who brought the allegations against Shenberger took the stand and was asked questions by Rentschler about a relationship with the Pennsylvania man that started friendly, grew close and eventually became sexual.
She said the contact between her and Shenberger first involved hugging, which led to hand-holding. She said she was 13 at the time the relationship began and before she turned 14, the contact began to become sexual. She testified that by the time she was 14, the relationship progressed to a full sexual affair.
The incidents reportedly occurred on the farm of the alleged victim’s step-grandparents, at Shenberger’s home in Pennsylvania and culminated in the last incident at the Whitley County 4-H Fairgrounds.
While Shenberger has maintained his innocence, claiming the alleged victim is making the story up, Rentschler told the jury there would be witnesses presented who could cast doubt on the platonic nature of his relationship with the girl.
“Three people will tell you they saw (the alleged victim) lying on top of Dustin on the couch,” Rentschler said.
The defense’s cross-examination targeted the woman’s recollection of events that reportedly happened numerous times between 2004 and 2006.
Co-counsel for the defense, Michelle Kraus asked the witness to pinpoint how many times she felt she had sexual intercourse with Shenberger, once the intercourse allegedly became part of the relationship.
She also questioned the alleged victim about the various locations where the sex allegedly occurred, pointing out that in later testimony, the witness said that a dark room in the barn had been a favorite spot for the two to meet and have sex.
Kraus pointed out that the dark room had not been mentioned in earlier testimony.
Kraus also focused on the amount of time it took for the alleged victim to come forward.
In his redirect, Rentschler took a position behind the jury so his questions to the witness would have to travel over the jurors to be heard by the alleged victim.
“How many times have you had to tell this story?” Rentschler asked.
The witness said she’s repeated the story numerous times to police officers, investigators and attorneys.
Following all the testimony, one juror had a question. The question was written down and given to Whitley County Circuit Judge James Heuer, who reviewed the question with attorneys from both sides.
Heuer told the jury he would not allow the question to be asked to the witness, but said it might be a question that could be given to a later witness.
The trial resumed this morning and is expected to last until this evening or possibly spill into Thursday.