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Heinen denies sex abuse

FARGO, N.D. - Whether a former YMCA day care worker accused of child molestation takes the stand to testify in his defense today, jurors already have heard his denials.

Prosecutors played a 40-minute videotaped police interview with Jatten Heinen on Tuesday, showing him repeatedly denying that he molested a 7-year-old girl last July 18.

In the July 27, 2007, interview, Heinen said he would never molest a child, calling it "gross" and "nasty" and saying such behavior "makes me sick."

"I started working in child care to help prevent things like that," Heinen told Fargo police Investigator Paula Ternes, saying he had a friend in elementary school who was molested.

The video shows Heinen sitting calmly in his chair, his hands folded in front of him. Heinen spoke in a quiet voice as he repeatedly denied he touched a girl on the bus taking day care children from the YMCA West to the downtown YMCA for swimming lessons.

Ternes is shown calling Heinen a liar and telling him she doesn't believe him, saying children don't make up such things. She asked Heinen whether he touched the girl's foot, asking if he remembers rubbing it.

Heinen paused, before responding, "I'm trying to remember ... I can't exactly remember if I did or didn't." He denied touching the girl when Ternes asks him again.

"The thing is I really don't know what I did," he said. When told the accusations again, he responded, "I don't understand why someone would say that."

The girl, now 8, told investigators Heinen touched her foot, then moved his hand up her leg before inappropriately touching her on a bus last summer. Three other girls also have accused Heinen of molesting them or trying to molest them - leading to five felony charges in Cass County District Court.

A Cass County social worker who interviewed the four girls also testified Tuesday about her interview techniques and the interviews.

Carissa Cowley testified that she was not concerned the girls were telling her someone else's story, and at one point said she believed their testimony. The defense objected to that comment and successfully asked the judge to give the jury a cautionary instruction to disregard Cowley's comment about believing the girls.

Under cross-examination, Cowley said she tries to keep her facial expressions as neutral as possible, but agreed children could be influenced by certain expressions. Cowley's face is not clearly visible in the video-taped interviews of the girls that were played for the jury.

Jurors watched the last of those interviews Tuesday, which showed the fourth girl Heinen is accused of molesting say numerous times that she told other YMCA workers he kissed her and molested her. That contradicts with what a former colleague of Heinen's testified last week.

The last prosecution witness was a counselor at Fargo's Rape and Abuse Crisis Center, who said that reactions from child sexual abuse victims can vary. Sheila Andrews, who is not treating any of the alleged victims, said that children may often take time to disclose the abuse, due to several factors, such as whether the abuser is an authority figure.

"They may fear that they're not being believed," Andrews said.

Dr. Arne Graff, a MeritCare doctor who examined three of the girls in the case, also testified that "most kids do not disclose at the time of an act."

The defense will now begin presenting its case. It is unclear how many defense witnesses there are and whether Heinen will testify.