Crime & Courts

Judge sets guidelines for service dog's presence at Crystal Lake man's sex abuse trial

David Tapley
David Tapley

McHenry County Judge James Cowlin on Friday laid out the accommodations he will make for the alleged victim in a sexual abuse case scheduled for trial next month.

It was unclear heading into 53-year-old David Tapley’s court appearance whether the 17-year-old girl he’s accused of abusing would be in attendance.

The alleged victim’s mother asked Cowlin on Wednesday to bar Tapley from coming to court Friday, so her daughter could handle the service dog without going into a “dissociative episode.”

Cowlin denied the woman’s request, citing Tapley’s right to be present during decisions about his case.

The girl, however, walked into the courtroom Friday with her black and white, floppy-eared dog by her side. The dog’s appearance was mandatory, since the purpose of the meeting was to plan how to accommodate the girl without the dog swaying juror’s opinions, Cowlin said. Tapley’s attorney, Francisco Botto, has claimed the dog will prevent the Crystal Lake man from getting a fair trial.

Attorneys agreed jurors would not be present when the alleged victim and her dog walk to and from the stand together for her expected testimony. A gate at the entrance of the witness chair will block jurors from seeing the dog while the 17-year-old testifies.

Cowlin asked that the dog not jump on the girl’s lap during trial, but the alleged victim made no promises. Part of the dog’s service training includes reassuring her with physical touch when she becomes noticeably anxious, she said.

“Based on how I’m feeling right now, she’s probably going to come up at least once,” the girl said. “I’m not going to tell her to – that’s just what she’s trained to do.”

Jurors could hear instruction to focus only on the girl’s testimony and not the service animal.

Tapley’s trial is scheduled for Sept. 17.

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