Barb’s career as Arkansas’ first courthouse dog will take off in November when she accompanies a child victim during trial for the first time.
Barb, a 2-year-old golden retriever and labrador mix, is a certified facility dog.
Courthouse dogs are used in 30 states. She is Arkansas’ first and works for the 20th Judicial District.
On Monday, a circuit judge ruled to allow Barb to accompany a 10-year-old victim as she testifies against her former foster parent in November.
Faulkner County Prosecuting Attorney Cody Hiland said the judge’s ruling was monumental.
"It’s certainly a momentous time for a program that has already been impactful for young victims that have visited our office for meetings," he said. "It’s finally time to take the next step and for young victims in these type of cases to have the comfort of a facility dog with them when testifying in court."
Courthouse dogs are used as a means to support child victims, helping to create a friendlier environment to ease the pain of talking about uncomfortable, traumatic events.
Victim and Witness Coordinator Susan Bradshaw, Barb’s primary handler, said Barb has helped break the fear barrier for many child victims who have come to the prosecutor’s office.
While she has not yet been used during trial, Barb has been a part of the process of interviewing child victims as prosecutors build their cases.
Kristen Chronister, a 20th Judicial District victim and witness advocate, said she noticed the child victim in this case had difficulty talking about the alleged rape incident when she was first questioned, noting she was "very nervous, timid and emotional."
Bradshaw and Chronister give child victims the chance to bond with Barb before prosecutors come in to begin questioning them, letting the children have 10-15 minutes of play time with her.
The victim in the upcoming November trial has played with and even fed Barb, Bradshaw said.
Chronister said she "witnessed a relationship with the victim and Barb," even after play time ended.
The victim seemed to be focused on the questions prosecutors asked of her when Barb was present, Bradshaw said, noting Barb brought with her a "calming force" and that the girl would pet the dog as she spoke with prosecutors.
Lynn Plemmons, the foster parent’s defense attorney, said he felt Barb’s presence would "unintentionally" make jurors feel more sympathetic toward the child witness.
Plemmons also said he was concerned the dog would disrupt court, pointing out Barb "shook her head … just being a dog" as she took the stand alongside Bradshaw.
Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Hugh Finkelstein yelled and threw a stack of papers toward Barb to make his next point: Barb was trained to remain calm during proceedings.
"You may not have scared the dog, but you scared me," Circuit Judge Charles "Ed" Clawson Jr. said.
Clawson gave the OK for Barb to accompany the 10-year-old victim during Edgar Torrance’s rape trial.
The judge said it was important to acknowledge Barb’s presence during jury selection but that the dog would be kept out of sight during trial.
Torrance, 64, is accused of raping the child victim while she was in his custody in 2011 and 2012.
Court records show that when the girl’s adoptive mother was talking to her in October 2014 about the importance of knowing people before riding in their cars and discussing appropriate behavior, the girl said Torrance had engaged in inappropriate behavior with her.
During questioning with a forensics investigator, the girl described his alleged actions in detail.
Torrance has pleaded not guilty and is currently free on a $250,000 bond. His jury trial is set for Nov. 15-17.
(Staff writer Marisa Hicks can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 505-1277. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)