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Jury hears final closing arguments in rape trial

After more than six hours of closing arguments in the Athens County Court of Common Pleas on Thursday, a local man’s rape and child molestation case is headed for jury deliberation.

The court heard closing arguments from Defense Attorney John LaVelle, Athens County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn and Assistant Prosecutor Robert Driscoll in the trial for Thomas Shifflet, 76, who was charged with three counts of gross sexual imposition, one count of rape and one count of sexual imposition.

Shifflet allegedly molested a 13-year-old at Jody’s Country Collectibles in Millfield, a 10-year-old in a car driving through Athens County and a 3- and 8-year-old at two Athens County daycare centers run by his daughters. He also allegedly raped a 4-year-old at one of the daycare centers. All the incidents allegedly took place between November 2010 and June 2011.

Driscoll gave the first closing argument reiterating the facts of the case to the jury.“How can you do that and it have been an accident?” Driscoll asked, referencing Shifflet allegedly touching the 13-year-old’s breast, buttock and vaginal area while hugging her in the back room of the collectibles store. “I don’t know. Was it an accident? No.”

In his argument, LaVelle talked about the inconsistency in witness testimonies.

“A changing story reflects on the credibility of the witness,” he said.

He noted several discrepancies between the child victims’ interviews with Athens County Children Services shortly after the incidents were discovered and their testimonies heard in court.

“We are dealing with children who still believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy,” LaVelle said. “We are dealing with children with imaginations.”

He claimed the charges against Shifflet started a rumor in Trimble Township that spread into a “brush fire.”

He suggested the redness found in some of the children’s genitals could have been attributed to a urinary tract infection.

“You’ve got redness (in the children’s private areas),” he said. “You’ve got rumors. And you’ve got Tom Shifflet.”

However, Blackburn disagreed.

“The redness started at the daycare and stopped when (the victims) stopped going to the daycare,” Blackburn said in the final closing argument.

He refuted LaVelle’s statements that the inconsistencies in the victims’ and witness’ stories meant they were false. 

“If this was a conspiracy to get Shifflet, wouldn’t they all have the same story?” Blackburn said. “Things that are perfectly consistent are not real.”

Blackburn called LaVelle’s statement to the jury members that they could not believe a child witness “an attack.” He added the 10-year-old testified she did not tell anyone what happened to her until months later because she thought nobody would believe her over an adult.

“If you believe these children, find the defendant guilty and tear the cloak of innocence off him,” Blackburn said.

The jury will meet in the courtroom at 10 a.m. Friday for jury instructions.

Shifflet could be sentenced to a maximum of 25 years and two months in prison and a maximum fine of $30,500 if convicted of all charges by the jury, according to the Ohio Revised Code.

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