By Bob Steenson, firstname.lastname@example.org
It took more than two days to seat a jury, but testimony began Wednesday morning in the third trial of a Charles City man on a charge of sexual abuse in the third degree.
In opening arguments, Floyd County Attorney Rachel Ginbey said she would prove that the defendant, Douglas Lindaman, age 62, had touched the genitals of a then-17-year-old boy who Lindaman had hired to work on his farm in 2011.
She said the evidence would prove the touch was a sexual act and that the boy had told Lindaman not to touch him.
Lindaman, in an opening statement that took almost an hour and included three poster boards packed with information, said he would prove that the touch was not a sex act, but something that he did to try to help the boy get through what Lindaman called a sexual injury.
He also said he would show that the touch had been done with consent.
He said that while the boy and his brother worked for him he would ask the boy questions about sex or topics such as masturbation and the boy wouldn’t talk.
“I had talked to him for a month as to whether he had a problem, and he could never verbalize anything. He would never say anything. He would freeze and just kind of look,” Lindaman said.
Lindaman, who has identified himself as gay, said he grew up in an environment where he was taught that being gay was a mental disorder, a sin against God and that he should avoid gay people.
He said that people who are conflicted about their sexuality or who have suffered a sexual injury sometimes turn to suicide, and that he had gotten to that point himself until he read a book that helped him realize that he had always been gay and he started to accept his sexuality.
Lindaman said he knew that the best way to get through a problem and to avoid getting to the point of suicide is to talk about the problem.
He said he touched the boy’s penis, but he did it with the boy’s consent and did it as part of an “intervention” to help break through mental barriers. He likened the touch to the Heimlich maneuver, which is done to help someone who is choking.
He suggested the boy may have told his family that the touch was done without consent to avoid the stigma of being thought of by his family as being gay.
Lindaman also suggested that the family of the boy sought to change the story in order to extort money from him.
Other parts of the case include Lindaman purchasing an oil to rub on the boy’s back to help reduce scars that were caused by acne; Lindaman giving the family a used washer because, he said, the boys were getting dirty working on Lindaman’s farm, where he raised cattle, and their washer wasn’t working; and Lindaman purchasing a dirt bike motorcycle for the boy which the boy would pay off through his work for Lindaman.
Lindaman said his opening statement was creating a “roadmap” to help the jury organize the case. He showed the jury three pictures of optical illusions and said that what you see in the pictures depends on how you look at them.
The first witness for the prosecution was the alleged victim, an area resident who is now 24. The Press is not identifying him as part of its policy to not identify alleged victims of sexual crimes.
Under questioning by Ginbey, the man said his family was “normal, average” and close-knit, but that they sometimes struggled for money.
At the time of the alleged incident, he said, neither his mother nor father had a job, and his father was teaching him and his brother how to collect scrap metal and sell it.
He said they used to drive by Lindaman’s farm and knew he had metal scrap, so he and his brother asked if they could have it to sell and split the money with Lindaman, but Lindaman offered them jobs instead and offered to pay them $10 an hour.
He said he enjoyed working on the farm, and liked the pay they were getting, but soon Lindaman started “weird ways of talking,” including asking them sexual questions and talking in a sexual way.
For example, he said a phrase that he said Lindaman had used once when his brother had made him mad, using a vulgar expression meaning Lindaman threatened to perform a sex act on the brother on the shop floor in front of his friends.
Another time, he said, when the alleged victim didn’t properly close a fuel cap on a piece of machinery, Lindaman said the fuel sprayed out and the witness used an expression that he said Lindaman had used which referred to the fuel ejaculating all over his face.
He said when Lindaman purchased the oil for his acne scars he was grateful and wanted to take the oil home so his mother could apply it, but Lindaman said they would keep it on the farm so he could apply it.
He said Lindaman regularly rubbed the oil on his back and chest, and also on his thighs.
On the day of the alleged incident, he said Lindaman took him to an old farm building on Lindaman’s property that was full of trash except for a room that had a twin-size bed in it and that was very clean.
He said Lindaman asked him to take his pants off so he could look at his genitals to see if everything was normal.
“He pressured you?” Ginbey asked.
“Yes,” he said.
“He asked a couple of times if I could take my underpants off. I said no, I’m not like that,” he said.
Eventually, he said, he agreed to remove his underpants, but told Lindaman, “You can’t touch it.”
He said Lindaman was sitting next to him on the bed and told him to “lay back and think of naked girls. It was gross.”
He described Lindaman as breathing heavy, with red, watering eyes.
He said Lindaman touched his penis, then the man said he pulled up his pants and Lindaman tapped his genitals again.
He said he later told his brother about the incident and his brother told his mother, who then told his father.
He said that he had gone back to work for Lindaman a couple of times after the incident “because I was stupid.”
“I liked having a $10 an hour job, and my dad didn’t even have a job,” he said. However, once his father found out about the incident the boys didn’t go back to Lindaman’s farm.
After a couple of days Lindaman came to their house to see why they had stopped coming to work, he said, and his father confronted Lindaman, yelling, “Why did you touch my boy?”
He said Lindaman sent them an agreement for the family to sign, saying that nothing sexual or non-consensual had happened, in exchange for a check for $3,000.
In his cross-examination of the alleged victim, Lindaman concentrated on a number of areas, including the timeline for when various incidents took place and the number of times he had allegedly touched the then-teenager, and whether the alleged victim had considered the touch a sex act.
“When my hand touched your penis, was it sexual to you?” Lindaman asked.
“It was sexual to me,” the witness said.
“How was it sexual to you?” Lindaman asked.
“I don’t know what you’re trying to say, but I didn’t like it,” the witness said.
“How did it make it sexual?” Lindaman asked.
“Because you asked me to lean back, relax and think about girls. That’s pretty sexual,” the witness said.
Later, under continued questioning on the subject, the witness said, “Also the lotion. I didn’t have scars on my thighs.”
Lindaman and the witness want back and forth through several rounds of questioning on the number of times the alleged victim was touched, and whether it was a “tap” or a “grab,” with Lindaman pointing to discrepancies between what the witness was saying Wednesday and what he had written in a statement made to authorities after the alleged incident and what he had said during a deposition before the first trial that was held in 2016.
Lindaman said that in his deposition the witness had said he had consented to Lindaman touching him in return for the dirt bike and he was now changing his story.
“It’s pretty clear you did a good job of confusing me, just like you are trying to do today,” the witness said.
Several times the witness said he could no longer remember specifics of what had happened.
“That’s a time in my life I’m trying to forget,” he said at one point.
Lindaman has maintained that one of the reasons the witness was sexually troubled was because he has small genitals, which he said has been called genital dwarfism.
“Would you concede that your groin is undersize for a person of your size?” Lindaman asked.
“No,” the witness answered.
“Would you consent to a medical exam?” Lindaman asked.
“Yes,” he answered.
“Would you concede (to an exam) tomorrow?” Lindaman asked.
At that point Ginbey objected, saying the judge had already ruled prior to the trial that the witness would not be compelled to undergo a medical exam and that it would only “further victimize” him.
Judge Gregg Rosenbladt sustained that objection.
The only other witness Wednesday was Robert Pittman, a Charles City High School social studies teacher and coach who knew the alleged victim as one of his students and as a wrestler he had coached.
Under questioning by Ginbey, Pittman said one day in class he had noticed a commotion in the classroom and when he questioned the boy about it, the boy said his employer had touched his genitals.
Pittman said he advised the boy to contact the police.
Under cross-examination by Lindaman, Lindaman pointed to discrepancies in what Pittman said the boy had said and what the boy had testified Wednesday or said in previous statements or depositions.
Prior to the jury entering the courtroom Wednesday morning, Judge Rosenbladt had ruled on the issue of whether jurors could ask questions of witnesses.
Lindaman has argued repeatedly that jurors should be specifically told that they can ask questions, but Ginbey said in a previous written resistance that current case law says jurors can ask questions only if they bring up the topic of whether they can or not.
Rosenbladt agreed with that argument, saying his reading of case law is that jurors can ask questions only if “a juror manifests a desire to ask a question.”
“I don’t think there’s an obligation to inform the jury,” Rosenbladt said, adding that it could raise an expectation in jurors’ minds that they are supposed to ask questions.
Lindaman strenuously disagreed with that ruling, saying the judge was keeping information from the jury that members had a right to know and that his constitutional rights were being violated.
He said the judge’s ruling was an abuse of discretion and it prevented him from knowing what questions the jury might have, which could be crucial to his defense.
“Clearly it’s a matter that’s going to have to be resolved by the appellate court,” Lindaman said.
This is the third time Lindaman has been tried for this alleged offense.
Lindaman was convicted at a jury trial April 12, 2016, in Charles City, on one count of sexual abuse in the third degree, and sentenced to serve up to 10 years in state prison.
He was serving that sentence when the Iowa Supreme Court reversed the conviction in May 2017, and remanded the case for retrial.
Lindaman had represented himself at his trial in April 2016, (as he is doing again this trial) and that was the basis for the Iowa Supreme Court decision reversing the conviction.
The Iowa Supreme Court ruled that the district court had not adequately assured that Lindaman’s decision to represent himself was “intelligent and knowing” and the court had not fulfilled the legal requirements for a discussion necessary before someone proceeds to defend himself or herself.
The retrial was held in Franklin County District Court in Hampton on a change of venue because of pretrial publicity and began Feb. 21.
That trial ended in a mistrial after two witnesses for the prosecution mentioned information about Lindaman’s criminal history that the judge had ruled could not be mentioned in front of the jury.
The trial will continue Thursday morning in Cerro Gordo County District Court in Mason City.