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Stephen J. Lee, Forum News Service, Published April 04 2013

Ex-wife invented child abuse out of revenge, Grand Forks man testifies

GRAND FORKS - Taking the stand in his own trial on the charge he sexually abused his stepdaughter, Justin Yarbro denied the allegations Thursday and said his ex-wife used her daughter to frame him as a volatile marriage was coming to an end.

Yarbro, 32, was the first defense witness Thursday after the prosecution rested its case, having called 10 witnesses since Tuesday.

From comments made in court by attorneys, it appears he will be the only defense witness, and the jury will begin deliberating Friday.

If the jury convicts Yarbro of the Class AA felony, he could face up to life in prison without parole.

He’s been in the Grand Forks County jail since his arrest 13 months ago.

Dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and burnt orange tie, Yarbro was on the stand for two hours Thursday, testifying in such a quiet voice that state District Judge Debbie Kleven asked him several times to speak louder.

Yarbro said only days before his stepdaughter first accused him of sexual abuse in October 2011, her mother — his then-wife Nickole — told him she had cheated on him. He responded by telling her “we’re getting divorced.”

At the time, they both were locked out of their jobs with American Crystal Sugar in East Grand Forks and living on unemployment, and money was “very, very tight,” he testified.

They had been planning to use an expected “substantial” settlement in a lawsuit over his injury in a car accident to buy a house, he said. But after the cheating, he told Nickole he no longer was interested in sharing the money with her.

On Oct. 15, 2011, his wife took her daughter to the hospital for an exam and reported the allegations to police.

Yarbro testified he told her and police he had nothing to hide.

“I just told her, ‘You know I would never do anything like that.’”

In interviews, some of them shown to the jury, the girl, now 8, said Yarbro had sexually abused her “10 to 16 times” in 2010 and 2011.

Shortly after Yarbro’s arrest in February 2012, Nickole filed for divorce and also filed a lawsuit against him seeking personal injury damages on behalf of her daughter. That case is scheduled to go to trial in May.

As part of that, Nickole moved to freeze any settlement he receives from the car accident lawsuit, Yarbro testified.

Yarbro’s attorney, Jessie VanCamp, asked him bluntly about the several kinds of sexual abuse he’s accused of committing against his stepdaughter. He denied each allegation.

“Did you ever threaten to kill (the girl),” VanCamp asked.

“No,” he said.

When VanCamp asked how the allegations had affected him, Yarbro’s mouth trembled and he said he couldn’t think of any words, except, “It hurts.”

He said he felt bad for his stepdaughter for being subjected to the ordeal of the investigation and trial. He said he hadn’t seen her from October 2011 until she testified as the first prosecution witness Tuesday.

Nickole divorced Yarbro last year.

Laying on a sarcastic edge to his cross-examination of Yarbro, prosecutor Jason McCarthy showed the most aggressive questioning of the trial

“I’m just a little confused. … Is it your defense that Nickole is behind all this in an effort to get you framed?”

“That is what’s going on,” Yarbro said.

In an incredulous tone of voice, McCarthy pressed Yarbro, how “according to your theory,” Nickole was able to force her daughter to recount details of sexual acts to a series of experts — including police officers, a nurse, a physician, a forensic interviewer of child abuse victims and her elementary school teacher, all who testified she was credible.

Isn’t it unlikely a child of 7 would know about such sexual details unless she had experienced them, McCarthy asked Yarbro.

“Not these days,” Yarbro said. “Fifty years ago I would say ‘no way.’ These days … it’s all electronic.”

In a brief hearing after the jury was excused for the day, Yarbro’s attorneys argued to be able to call a woman as a witness who would tell of hearing Nickole talk about how she would punish Yarbro if a divorce ever occurred. But Judge Kleven ruled out the witness because it happened too long before the events in the case.