A Washington man accused of sexually abusing the daughter of his then wife in Lake County was found not guilty Tuesday.
After deliberating for one hour and 15 minutes, the jury returned, finding Frank Paulsen not guilty on all three counts.
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 Monday in Polson with a jury of eight women and four men hearing opening statements from prosecutor Ben Anciaux and defense attorney Sean Hinchey. Both attorneys acknowledged the lack of physical evidence. Hinchey said it would be difficult for the defendant to “prove a negative” of something alleged to have happened so long ago. There is no statute of limitations for child sexual abuse prosecution in Montana.
Paulsen’s accuser, McKenzie Campbell, now 25 years old, testified Monday for more than two hours relating the details of sexual incidents and other abuse she says happened in Lake County when Paulsen was married to her mother from 2001-2004.
Campbell was between the ages of 6 and 9 at the time. Most incidents occurred when her mother was at work as a nurse or away for other reasons, she said.
Campbell described six separate sexual incidents that she said were the most intense. However, she said incidents of physical, sexual, and verbal abuse happened several times a week.
She testified that Paulsen repeatedly threatened to kill her, her mother, and her father if she ever told anyone of the sex acts, saying it was their “secret.”
“He did things to make it known I wouldn’t be believed,” she testified. “He told me I was too dumb, and I was a liar.”
Campbell said that when he would accuse her of lying, he would make her take down her pants, and hit her buttocks with a paddle he had made with her name on it “until I had welts. He made me confess to things I hadn’t done.”
An incident when he pointed a gun at her made her feel “he would kill me if he wanted to,” she said.
In 2009, when Campbell was 14, she told her mother of the alleged abuse, and her grandfather. Her grandfather did not believe her at that time.
A plan for suicide landed her in the emergency room at Providence Hospital in Missoula. During that visit, she mentioned the sexual abuse, but did not want to talk about it, and did not share details at that time.
“I refused out of fear,” she testified.
Campbell was found to be “oppositional” and her reports were not considered credible by the emergency room doctor, whom the accuser claims only saw her for about five minutes. She said she was unaware until the week before the trial that the reports had been referred to the required state agencies, as she never received a visit or an inquiry.
“I always believed it was never reported,” she said.
This reinforced for her that Paulsen had been right, that no one would believe her, she testified.
In the opening statement, defense attorney Hinchey said records showed the report was referred to “CPS” (Child and Family Services) but is no longer there. He said that if reports are found credible, they are kept forever, but if not, they are destroyed after three years.
Campbell saw several counselors throughout her teens but did not discuss the sexual abuse until 2009.
Campbell reported the allegations again in 2018 to Lake County law enforcement. Because she lived in Billings at the time, a forensic interview was performed there by Detective Brad Tucker of the Billings Police Department. This was the first time she had ever been interviewed about the sexual assault details, she said.
Hinchey pointed out that she claimed she had told Tucker everything she could remember, six incidents, but now also claimed several per week, and other discrepancies in specific details between that interview and trial testimony, such as to what the defendant was wearing, whether she had said “upstairs” or “downstairs,” and how long she and her siblings had been locked in a room.
Under further questioning, the accuser explained she was under extreme stress and mixing up words occasionally during the interview.
“I felt like I’d been hit by a train,” she said.
Being in court, in the same room as the defendant for the first time since her childhood, added to her duress during testimony, she said, as did explaining anatomical details to a room full of strangers. The trial was also the first time details would be heard by family members, she said.
Tuesday, the jury heard testimony from the victim’s mother, the defendant, a psychiatrist who evaluated McKenzie at Providence Hospital in 2012, and Lake County Child and Family Services CPS supervisor.
Prosecutor Anciaux asked the jury to consider that most of the stories had been corroborated in some fashion by the defendant admitting he had been there but saw them differently. The defense focused closing statements on the fact that there was no physical evidence, no reporting of sexuual abuse by the child until she was older, and the defendant denying ever having committed any abuse.