Rogers -- The convictions of two people convicted in 2001 for child rape in Benton County have been upheld by the Arkansas Court of Appeals. The decision was announced Wednesday.
Jennifer Dyroff was convicted of rape, and Gene Thomas Caudle was convicted of accomplice to rape. They were charged with the abuse of a child under age 14.
According to the court's finding, Caudle was the admitted leader of a religious cult. The state alleged that sexual rituals were a part of the cult's activities; Caudle denied that when he testified.
The victim lived with his mother in the group and observed sexual activities. Testimony indicated he saw Caudle and Dyroff having sex, was invited into the bedroom and Dyroff had sex with the child at Caudle's direction.
In a second instance, testimony showed Caudle directed Dyroff to have sex with the victim while the group was on a camping trip to the Grand Canyon.
Caudle appealed on two points: that Judge David Clinger erred when he refused to grant a continuance after the state called an unexpected rebuttal witness and that Clinger erred in allowing an individual not involved in the abuse to testify about her sexual activities with the group.
Dyroff's appeal was based on three points: that Clinger erred in failing to grant a motion for directed verdict, that he erred in failing to separate her trial from Caudle's and that he erred in allowing the testimony about other sexual activities.
As to the shared point of appeal, the pair argued that a woman should not have been allowed to testify that she and her husband engaged in anal sex at Caudle's direction because the testimony was prejudicial, irrelevant and presented improper character evidence.
The appellate judges noted that they will not overturn a decision as to admissibility of evidence unless there is a showing of abuse of discretion or prejudice.
In this instance, the court noted that Clinger appropriately allowed testimony that supported the state's argument that Caudle directed sexual relations as a part of the cult.
In her appeal, Dyroff argued that the victim's testimony was not enough to bring her conduct within the requirements of the law, thus Clinger should have directed a not guilty verdict.
The court held that Dyroff failed to properly preserve this argument when the motion for directed verdict was not renewed after rebuttal testimony was offered.
As for severance, Dyroff argued that the victim's statements about sexual activities and Caudle's directing Dyroff to perform those acts were not admissible against her.
The court disagreed, stating "all the circumstances connected with a particular crime may be shown to provide the jury with the context of the entire crime."
Caudle claimed Clinger erred when he refused to continue the case after the state called a rebuttal witness who had not been previously revealed to the defense. The court ruled that Clinger did not err because the woman's testimony was offered to rebut Caudle's claim that the group did not engage in sex as a part of its beliefs.