Six-year-old alleged victim testifies at trial in GSI case

Coby Edwards, Berthold, faces up to life in prison without possibility of parole

The 6-year-old alleged victim, clutching a stuffed animal on the witness stand, testified Wednesday in district court in Minot that Coby John Edwards touched her “lower parts” in a way she didn’t like.

Edwards, 27, Berthold, is accused of sexually abusing the girl when she was 4 and 5 and is charged with Class AA felony gross sexual imposition in district court in Minot. He could face up to life in prison without the possibility of parole if he is found guilty.

The girl has not seen Edwards since March of 2018. She testified she does not remember his first name and could not point him out in the courtroom when Edwards’ defense attorney asked her to identify him. She said it had been a “long, long time” since she saw him.

Edwards was wearing a shirt and tie and his hair was closely shaven, giving him a different appearance than in his booking photo that was taken in the spring of 2018.

Special prosecutor Kelly Dillon had requested that the girl be allowed to testify via closed circuit television from another room, but the defense objected. Judge Doug Mattson ruled that the state had not proved that the child would be so traumatized by seeing Edwards that she would be unable to communicate.

On Wednesday, the prosecution also played a video of a forensic interview that was done with the girl by interviewer Kori Small at the Northern Plains Children’s Advocacy Center in February 2018. The girl, then 5, told Small that Edwards “wiggled” with her on a bed and it hurt. The girl told the interviewer that Edwards had “wiggled” with her more than once and that Edwards didn’t stop when she asked him to do so.

The child appeared playful and talkative in the interview and frequently wanted to talk about other subjects or giggled. During the forensic interview, law enforcement personnel were watching the interview via closed circuit television from another room. The child could not see them.

Nurse practitioner Terrilyn Braasch testified that she had examined the girl in February 2018 and found no physical signs of sexual abuse. However, Braasch testified that this is typical. In about 95 percent of examinations that are conducted more than 72 hours after an alleged assault, there are no physical indications of abuse. Braasch testified that the girl had told her that it had hurt her to urinate after Edwards “wiggled” with her.

The girl’s mother, with whom she lives, also testified on Wednesday and said the child had been in the care of Edwards and his then girlfriend, Skylar Picconatto, for extended periods of time.

Two people who had been incarcerated with Edwards testified about what Edwards allegedly told them about the case.

Richard Arnold, who had been incarcerated for drug charges, testified that he was in the same cell block with Edwards for 100 days. Arnold contacted the state’s attorney’s office a couple of months ago. Arnold testified that Edwards said the girl was around when Edwards and his two girlfriends had sex and that the girl might have been curious and viewed pornography on a laptop computer. Arnold testified that Edwards denied he is guilty of gross sexual imposition, which Edwards seemed to believe implied force was used or that the child was harmed Arnold testified that Edwards said he might be guilty of a lesser charge. Arnold also testified that Edwards asked him to have Arnold’s girlfriend look up information on the internet about the physical signs left behind by such abuse. Edwards did this after he learned that a nurse practitioner had examined the girl, Arnold testified. Arnold testified that he did not ask his girlfriend to do this.

Justin Thornton, who had been in the jail on drug charges, testified that he was in a cell with Edwards when both inmates were on lockdown for 23 hours a day. Thornton testified that Edwards first claimed he didn’t do it, but said the only way it could have happened is if the girl crawled into bed with him and snuggled up with him unclothed. Thornton testified that Edwards said the girl asked him about sex, so he taught her.

Arnold testified that he didn’t get any kind of a break from the state regarding his cases, but he did talk to a detective about a possible reduction in his sentence and that he wrote to a judge saying that he had some sort of “contract” with the state. No such deal existed. Arnold also testified that he has children of his own and it is wrong to touch kids.

Thornton also testified that he did not receive a deal from the state for his testimony.

Both Arnold and Thorntons also had trouble picking out Edwards in the courtroom because he recently got a haircut and had his bushy red beard trimmed.

During his opening statement, Kevin McCabe, the defense attorney for Edwards, said there is no physical proof of abuse. He said Edwards might have had an unusual lifestyle and might have been naked at times around children, but that is not an indication of guilt. McCabe filed a motion for acquittal on Wednesday afternoon and told Judge Mattson that there is no proof that Edwards committed the crime that is alleged. Mattson denied the motion for acquittal.

The state rested its case on Wednesday afternoon. McCabe told Mattson that the defense plans to call doctors as witnesses today.

Jury selection in the trial began Tuesday and testimony began on Wednesday. The trial is scheduled to last for four days.

Picconatto, 21, who had originally been charged with Class A gross sexual imposition and also accused of sexually abusing the little girl, pleaded guilty last month to an amended charge of Class C felony deprivation of a minor. Picconatto served about a year in jail and is on three years of supervised probation.