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In re N.A.P.

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

July 31, 2019


          Appeal from the Dispositional Order Entered September 1, 2018 In the Court of Common Pleas of Franklin County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-28-JV-0000038-2017

          BEFORE: LAZARUS, J., MURRAY, J., and STEVENS [*] , P.J.E.


          STEVENS, P.J.E.

         Appellant N.A.P., a minor, appeals from the dispositional order entered by the Court of Common Pleas of Franklin County on September 1, 2018. Appellant argues that the juvenile court erred when it refused to sequester a witness and denied his challenge to the weight of the evidence. After careful review, we affirm.

         Appellant was adjudicated delinquent based on allegations that he raped and strangled his girlfriend, N.M., when she was fifteen years old. At the adjudication hearing, the following factual history was developed: N.M. claimed that on January 17, 2017, Appellant and N.M. were arguing in the dining room of Appellant's home about Appellant's ex-girlfriend, C.V. Appellant suggested they continue their argument in his downstairs bedroom so that his grandfather would not hear their conversation.

         N.M. testified that initially she did not expect Appellant to hurt her as his demeanor was not "mean." Notes of Testimony (N.T.), 6/23/17, at 19. However, N.M. claimed that after she refused to have sex with Appellant, Appellant grabbed her by the neck and "slammed [her] down" on the bed. Id. at 20-21. As Appellant's hand was high on her neck near her jawbone, N.M. asserted that she had difficulty breathing, could not speak, and could not escape. Id. at 21-23, 36-37.

         N.M. explained in detail that Appellant used his right hand to pull her pants down and subsequently used his right hand to hold her right hand down. Id. at 22. He then placed his right hand on her neck and pulled her pants down with his left hand. Id. N.M. asserted that Appellant forced his penis into her vagina while still holding her neck, only stopping when they heard someone or something downstairs. Id. at 22-24.

         Thereafter, N.M. ran upstairs and texted her cousin to come pick her up, indicating that it was urgent as she needed to leave. Id. at 24. Appellant did not follow N.M. upstairs. Id. N.M. waited thirty minutes for her cousin to pick her up, but did not tell her cousin what happened because she was afraid and embarrassed. Id. at 25. N.M. later noticed she had bruising on her arm and buttocks, recalled having breathing issues that caused her to wheeze, and felt discomfort in her neck for the next few days. Id. at 26-27. N.M. also testified that the attack affected her emotionally, as she experienced depression and problems sleeping and eating. Id. at 27-28.

         N.M. did not speak with Appellant or initiate any contact with him after the attack. When she saw Appellant in the school hallway, he called her a "rat" and "ugly" in front of his friends. N.T. at 28-29. N.M. did not tell anyone about the attack until February 2017 when she confided in her best friend, her dad, and then her mom. Id. at 29-32. N.M. reported the attack and underwent a medical exam and interview at the Over the Rainbow Children's Advocacy Center on February 13, 2017.

         N.M. admitted that she did not have a good relationship with Appellant's ex-girlfriend, C.V., because she continued to contact Appellant while he was dating N.M., started "drama and rumors," and attempted to set up N.M. with another male in order to break Appellant and N.M.'s relationship. Id. at 35, 61-62, 67-68. In addition, N.M. claimed that she was bullied after the attack and had to transfer schools. Id. at 14.

         The prosecution presented the expert testimony of Jennifer McNew, a forensic nurse consultant, who has performed over 600 examinations in connection with sexual assault allegations. Id. at 77-78. When conducting N.M.'s examination on February 13, 2017, McNew took photos of bruises on N.M.'s left arm and left buttocks. McNew indicated that N.M.'s complaints of neck pain, difficulty breathing, lightheadedness, coughing, and headache were consistent with her claim that pressure had been applied to her neck. Id. at 88. McNew reported that N.M. did not exhibit any signs of genital injury, but explained that the absence of a genital injury does not invalidate allegations of sexual assault. Id. at 88-92. McNew also acknowledged that N.M. tested positive for chlamydia and Appellant tested negative for chlamydia, but cited studies proposing that chlamydia in males may resolve itself without any treatment. Id. at 88-89, 99-101.

         N.M.'s mother, T.D., testified that that her daughter was shaken and devastated when she revealed that she had been raped and strangled. Id. at 119-20. T.D. initially represented to the reporting officer, Trooper Courtney Pattillo, that based on N.M.'s statements, that the attack occurred sometime between January 16-18, 2017. Id. at 112. T.D. asserted that N.M. never alleged that the assault occurred on January 20. Id.

         Appellant's mother, S.J., claimed Trooper Pattillo contacted her on February 13, 2017 with the allegations N.M. made against Appellant. Id. at 124. When Trooper Pattillo asserted that the alleged date of the attack was January 20, 2017, S.J claimed the attack did not happen as Appellant was out to dinner with her for her mother's birthday. Id. at 125-26. S.J. also claimed she picked Appellant up at N.M.'s home on January 19. Id. at 129-30. However, she never told this to Trooper Pattillo. Id. at 133-36.

         Trooper Pattillo was unable to be present for the hearing in this case. Neither party sought to continue the adjudicatory hearing to a later court date in which Trooper Pattillo would be available to appear in this case.

         Appellant's grandfather, C.J., testified that he supervises Appellant when Appellant's mother is on work trips. Id. at 138-39. Although Appellant's room is in the basement of the home, C.J. claimed that he has never seen Appellant's door closed and can hear what is going on the basement from upstairs. Id. at 140-41. While C.J. indicated that Appellant's friends were required to leave the home by 8:00 p.m., C.J. was not aware of any rule with respect to Appellant having girls in his room. Id. at 140.

         When specifically asked about Appellant's relationship with N.M., C.J. indicated that he never saw N.M. come up from the basement and act unusual, injured, or upset. Id. at 143. Further, C.J. identified his own text messages in which he asked Appellant's mother if he could drop Appellant off at N.M.'s grandmother's home on January 18, 2017. Id. at 143-45. C.J. remembered driving Appellant there and seeing him enter the home, but admitted he did not see N.M. on that date. Id. at 145-46.

         Appellant's ex-girlfriend, C.V., testified that she dated Appellant from April 2016 to December 2016. Id. at 150-51. C.V. knew that Appellant and N.M. dated from December 27 until the end of January. Id. at 151. Appellant and C.V. got back together on February 2, 2017. Id. at 151-52. C.V. admitted that she made N.M. angry when she forwarded Appellant a text message thread between N.M. and another male, M.M. Id. at 153-56.

         Appellant testified on his own behalf and claimed he did not remember what happened on January 17, 2017. Id. at 161. He indicated that he had consensual sex with N.M. three or four times during their relationship, but could not recall the exact dates. Id. at 160. Appellant testified to his household rule that his bedroom door had to be open if he was alone with N.M. and his grandfather would sometimes check in with them unexpectedly. Id. at 162-63. However, Appellant maintained that he and N.M. had sex in his bedroom several times and were never caught. Id. Appellant also claimed his mother set a strict rule that friends had to leave N.M.'s home by 8 p.m. on a school night. Id. at 162.

         Appellant indicated that he and N.M. broke up in late January over Snapchat messages. Id. at 172-73. Although it was a "bad breakup," Appellant could not recall what led to the breakup. N.T. at 171-73. He indicated the breakup occurred before N.M. came forward with the rape allegations and admitted he and N.M. would fight often over his ex-girlfriend, C.V. Id. at 163. Appellant admitted to calling N.M. "chunky," "fat," and a "rat" in front of his friends to make N.M. feel bad after their relationship ended. He admitted to targeting N.M.'s insecurities about her own body specifically to make fun of her. N.T. at 165-66, 169. Appellant admitted that ...

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