San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

December 16th, 2010
Judge won’t suppress testimony in Hindu guru’s sex crime trial

by BRAD ROLLINS

Testimony of a woman who was allegedly molested as a teen by an internationally known Hays County Hindu leader will be admissible in court despite a missing video recording of an investigator’s interview with the accuser, 22nd District Judge Charles Ramsay ruled on Wednesday.

Prakashanand

Prakashanand Saraswati, who presides over a Driftwood area ashram as the spiritual head of the JKP-Barsana Dham sect temple, is accused of touching the breasts of two teenagers during a three-year period starting in 1993. Hays County Sheriff’s Office Det. Jeri Skrocki interviewed the woman in November 2007, but a tape of the exchange has since been lost.

Lawyers for Prakashanand asked Ramsay to suppress the woman’s testimony, a rare move that could have bedeviled attempts to prosecute any of the 20 counts of indecency with a child that stem from her allegations. A jury trial on the charges is scheduled to start in February..

In a filing, attorneys wrote, “The degree of negligence is relatively high, as an essential item of evidence has been lost, and the State has not given an adequate reason to explain the circumstances that led to this loss of evidence. … This evidence was highly significant, as it represents the primary method by which Defendant’s counsel can impeach [the complainant’s] testimony at trial. Finally, there is no other evidence supporting this charge other than [the accuser’s] own statements and her potential testimony.”

In arguments Ramsay apparently accepted, prosecutors argued that Skrocki’s detailed synopsis of the interview — which District Attorney Sherri Tibbe calls “almost a transcript” — is sufficient to substitute for the tape. In addition, the witness will testify and be subject to cross-examination by Prakashanand’s defense attorneys.

Loss of evidence “doesn’t happen very often but it does happen and it happens in every jurisdiction. The defense has known for over a year that there were issues with this tape [and] it’s an issue that is certainly there but it doesn’t affect our ability to move forward with the case,” Tibbe said in an interview on Thursday. She said jurors would likely be told by the defense that an interview tape is missing.

After the court ruled in September 2009 that the state must turn over the tape, Skrocki gave what she thought was a copy to defense attorneys, who said they were unable to open or view the testimony. In a hearing on Wednesday, Skroki testified that when she sought the original copy from the sheriff’s office evidence room, she was told it couldn’t be found.

Electronic equipment used for duplicating DVDs at the sherrif’s office has since been replaced and is not available for examination, testimony showed.

“Bottom line, whether the DVD was intentionally destroyed or simply lost, it is gone — that creates a real problem for the prosecution in this case. And not only is that evidence not available, today we learned that they have either lost or destroyed the computer itself,” said Austin attorney Joe Turner, one of a half-dozen lawyers on Prakashanand muscular defense team.

Ramsay also rejected the defense’s motion to conduct a sworn deposition of the accuser prior to trial. The Hays Free Press is withholding the accuser’s name because the newspaper has a policy of not identifying alleged victims of sexual crimes.

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7 thoughts on “Judge won’t suppress testimony in Hindu guru’s sex crime trial

  1. Anita Sharma said, “Biased judge, court and media. No evidence no case.” Seems you are biased towards this creep guru of yours because you have blind faith in all the bull crap they spew to cover their hides. “Biased court, judge and media and no evidence” is old regurgitated blah blab. Exactly what the guilty and their lawyers have always said for centuries around the world when trapped facing their crimes in court. Everyone knows that. You have no clue yet what the evidence is. That will all come out in court by testimony under oath. But even then you wont want to hear it or believe it anyway. Blind faith is dangerous! Maybe the victims evidence in person will open your eyes.

  2. In this kind of case with no evidence and allegations from 17 years ago it becomes even more important for DA and her office to keep the interview safe.Written script and the original recording are two different things. If they were the same then what is the need of recording such interviews. How do things get lost? They are suppose to protect us and can not even keep their own data safe, lost dvd, lost data, lost computer, does not sound very competent. It happens everywhere is not the justification. Tampering with evidence and disappearing files are not new in Hays county. They have a long history.

    http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/judicial/2010-09-22-federal-prosecutors-reform_N.htm

  3. Some people are getting mixed up with where the original interview data went missing. It was NOT the DA’s (prosecutors) office that lost the files. It was the cops/Sheriff dept who gave out a tape that doesnt work, lost the original tape, removed the computer and failed to keep backup storage data from that computer.

  4. The main problem seems to be that the judge basically admitted that the defense should have access to the video evidence in order for a fair trial. So, can anyone tell me what made him change his mind about that?

    Second things is that its hard to believe that 1. the sheriff would pass on a dud copy of the video to the DA, and then the DA would pass it on to the defense without even looking at it, or making a copy of it. 2. the sherrif would loose the video, destroy all the equipment used in making and copying the video, have no backups.

    What other explanation can there be for all this, except that there was something said on that video which the prosecution and police (and judge) felt would jeopardize their case – e.g. leading questions, contradictory statements etc.

    Finally, why is there no transcript of the video? It seems from the above article that there is only a summary?

    But yea, someone needs to investigate the relationship between the DA, the police and the judge in hays county – there are too many questions that need answering. How can justice be served in this environment?

  5. Doreth, you said; “the judge basically admitted that the defense should have access to the video evidence in order for a fair trial. So, can anyone tell me what made him change his mind about that?”

    The judge would not simply have “changed his mind.” Once he had information that the tape was bad and there was no backup data, he had to make a new informed decision, which any other court and judge would have done. He would have weighed what could still be offered in court to make that decision during the pretrial held for that purpose. The victim’s initial written report, her testimony and that of witnesses in court, the right of the defense attorney to cross examine her, the victim’s right to have her trial and face her abuser, and the abuser’s right to face his accuser in court would all have been factored in to the new determination. It’s not just a matter of changing his mind for the sake of it. It’s the right thing to do, but Barsana Dham of course would not think so–they would much rather throw out the case now to avoid the evidence being testified in the court by the victim and witnesses. The abuser must be dreading facing the outcome of what he allegedly did. Proves he is not above the laws and must live under the laws of Karma and the laws of the land.

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