Defense exposes lack of evidence in sexual assault trial

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A Washington man acquitted last week of charges that he molested his stepdaughter flat out denied the allegations that date back to 2001, while his defense attorneys exposed a lack of physical evidence and documentation of the alleged incidents.

After deliberating for one hour and 15 minutes on Jan. 7, a Lake County District Court jury returned a verdict of not guilty on all charges against Frank Paulsen. Paulsen was charged with two counts of sexual assault and one count of intimidation. The charges were in relation to alleged crimes from 2001-04.

The trial began Jan. 6 in Polson with a jury of eight women and four men hearing opening statements from prosecutor Ben Anciaux and defense attorney Sean Hinchey. Paulsen’s accuser, McKenzie Campbell, now 25 years old, testified for more than two hours relating the details of the sexual incidents and other abuse she says happened in Lake County when Paulsen was married to her mother. Campbell was between the ages of 6 and 9 at the time.

Following Campbell’s testimony, the defense brought McKenzie’s mother, Heather Paulsen, to the stand. Heather testified that she and Frank had agreed that they wanted to be a family together, and as such, they had agreed Frank could discipline the children, which included spanking. She testified that over the course of the marriage, there was increased physical punishment, including a paddle with McKenzie’s name on it that he used on her bare buttocks, hand slapping until they were red, and smacking her on the back of the head frequently.

Heather recalled several incidents, which McKenzie had testified about the day before, including a shotgun-wielding Frank threatening to shoot their barking dog, and children being locked in a room for an extended period unable to use the bathroom.

“Things got worse, got worse, got worse,” Heather said, including violence she was allegedly subjected to. “He called McKenzie a liar, and stupid … I regret to this day I didn’t shut that down.”

However, she said she was unaware of any of the alleged sexual assaults until McKenzie reported them when she was 14 ­— when she told her mother she had a plan to kill herself.

Heather, a registered nurse, said she immediately took McKenzie to St. Patrick’s Hospital in Missoula, where she was seen in the emergency room and then transferred for two weeks to Providence Hospital for a mental health evaluation. Though records show sexual assault was reported at that time, Heather was never contacted by anyone from the Department of Human and Health Services or law enforcement to investigate, she said. She thought that meant it was a low priority on their list.

“I didn’t understand the process,” she testified.

“If I knew then what I know now, things would have been very different. It apparently had not been reported,” as required, she said.

An emergency room report that said McKenzie reported she was 12 years old when the sexual abuse started was incorrect, she said. That was when she started thinking of suicide.

Heather reported several restraining orders against Paulsen as their marriage was ending. She applied for later ones after the 2012 ER visit but was denied.

Defense attorney Lane Bennett called Dr. Kary Aytes, the attending psychiatrist during McKenzie’s stay at Providence. Aytes reviewed notes, but did not remember the case. The records, he said, showed allegations of sexual abuse, and suicidal ideation.

“We provide an opportunity to talk, but we’re careful,” he said. Patients can be “very fragile.” Records indicated a report was to be made to Child Protections Services, but one ER employee had written “her reliability was questioned.” The meaning of that statement was unclear, he said.

Lisa Grogan, Lake County CPS supervisor, testified that CPS would investigate any report of suspicion of child abuse or neglect. There are no records of reports in this case. Records are destroyed after three years if a case is investigated and found to be unsubstantiated, but as there was never an interview or investigation done, “probably no report was made.”

Jessica Anderson, a niece of Frank Paulsen, testified that if McKenzie had been sexually assaulted, it could be a “case of mistaken identity,” as her own sister had been abused by another family member.

Frank Paulsen also took the stand and testified that he been discharged from the military with disability due to being injured in a “tank accident.” He said he “absolutely did not” molest McKenzie. He remembered several of the incidents related in McKenzie’s and Heather’s testimony but disputed many details. “There was never a paddle. It was a trivet I made for Heather. I never hit McKenzie with it, and it didn’t have her name on it,” he said. He said he never threatened to shoot the dog, didn’t own a shotgun, never had the shirt or type of underwear McKenzie described in her testimony, and “would never threaten to kill the mother of my children,” as testified to by McKenzie.

He said he did send the kids into a room and told them to be quiet, but there was no hook and loop lock.

During cross examination, prosecutor Ben Anciaux said McKenzie’s grandmother testified in deposition that she had removed the lock after the incident.

Paulsen said he had “no idea” why McKenzie would remember childhood incidents differently than he did, and did not know anything of the allegations until he was arrested in Spokane at his workplace in 2018. He said he would have spoken with law enforcement if asked. He said he was terminated from his position at the VA due to these charges, and his nursing license is “held up,” so he can’t work.

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