Deborah Furst trial opens; woman accused of sexually assaulting stepson
Deborah Furst looks toward te jury during the first day of her trial on sexual assault charges at Merrimack County Superior Court; Monday, June 24, 2013.
ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff
Assistant County Prosecutor Wayne Coull swears in Bethany Cottrell of Merrimack County Child Advocacy Center during a hearing preceding the first day of Deborah Furst's trial at Merrimack County Superior at Merrimack County Superior Court; Monday, June 24, 2013.
ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff
Deborah Furst's lawyer, Robert Hunt, questions Bethany Cotrell of Merrimack County Child Advocacy Center during a hearing preceding the first day of Furst's trial at Merrimack County Superior Court; Monday, June 24, 2013.
ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff
A Bradford boy sat across from his stepmother in court yesterday and plainly described how she had inappropriately touched him for years, both beneath blankets in their home and underneath tabletops at restaurants while others sat inches away.
Outside the courtroom, the child’s other mother – the woman Deborah Furst believes pressured him to lie as a vindictive ploy to retain custody during their divorce – waited for her own turn on the stand.
The 10-year-old boy didn’t appear rattled by the arrangement, or by the direct questions from Furst’s lawyer, who pressed him to explain how Furst could have inconspicuously put her hand down his pants while Judy Parys and his sister sat across the table from them.
“Her hand, well the table was covering us because we were on the edge (of the seat.) It was over us,” the boy said during the trial’s first day at Merrimack County Superior Court.
“Is that the truth?” Robert Hunt, Furst’s lawyer, asked.
“Yes,” he said.
“And that happened in all these restaurants?” Hunt continued as the boy nodded. “With nobody seeing?”
Furst, who lived in Bradford with her family until she moved out of the home in December 2011, is accused of repeatedly sexually assaulting her stepson from 2006, when he was 3 years old, until November 2012. (Parys legally adopted both children.) The boy testified yesterday that Furst touched him on a couch in their home, in their yard while gardening and in restaurants, always beneath his clothing but never after taking his clothes off.
Prosecutors said he disclosed the abuse to Parys on Mothers Day 2012, about five months after Furst had moved out when her and Parys’s 30 year relationship fell apart.
Hunt yesterday encouraged the jury to be suspicious of the timing. Furst, who is expected to take the stand today, filed for full custody of the couple’s two children and for possession of their home just 16 days before the boy made the accusations, he said.
When Parys testified yesterday, she acknowledged that she had been upset about the petition in which Furst asked for custody and accused her of being erratic and controlling. But Hunt didn’t ask Parys directly whether the petition led to the accusations made a few days later, a connection the attorney made explicitly in his opening statement.
“These sudden allegations resulted in exactly what Judy Parys was seeking . . . to prevent Deborah from getting custody of the children and possession of the house,” Hunt told the jury. “This divorce is ongoing right now.”
Attorney Wayne Coull, who is prosecuting the case alongside Rachel Harrington, called discussion of the couple’s marriage and divorce “an invitation to distraction” and encouraged the jury to put aside preconceptions when considering the case.
“If I started out this case and asked you to draw into your mind a picture of a sex offender, you would not picture Deb Furst,” he said. “If I asked you to think of a typical small family living in the town of Bradford . . . you would not have pulled into your mind perhaps the notion of a same-sex couple with (two adopted children).”
Mix of emotions
When the boy entered the courtroom, and Furst saw her stepson for the first time in nearly 16 months, she pressed her palms to her mouth and began to cry, her shoulders shivering before she composed herself with a few deep breaths. Throughout the testimony, she shifted starkly between smiles – almost proud as he spelled his name for the jury, talked about his favorite subjects at school and answered questions aimed at making him feel at ease – and tears – as he moved to talking about what brought them all there.
But first, at the prompting of the prosecutor, the boy promised he would tell the truth and described what he thought that meant.
“A promise is something that you make with a person or a lot of people and that you can’t break,” he said. “You always have to go on it. . . . I have to tell the truth no matter what.”
“Will you do that for us?” Coull asked.
He said he would.
And then he told Coull how the abuse started the year before he entered preschool, mostly on days when his sister was at school and Parys, the primary breadwinner in the family, was at work. He said he and Furst would sit on a small couch in their living room and she would put her hand down his pants and rub his “privates.” On a drawing of a naked boy given to him by Coull, the boy marked the area with a yellow highlighter.
He said Furst sometimes touched him while his sister was in her bedroom or on the computer, then went on to describe abuse in their garden and at restaurants.
Coull asked him why he didn’t say anything while Parys and his sister were on the other side of the table.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I kind of felt nervous.”
“Did you want to say anything or were you okay?” the prosecutor asked.
“I don’t know. Sometimes I was coloring.”
“Did you know what she was doing?”
“Yeah,” the boy said. “But I didn’t know it was bad.”
He also testified yesterday that Furst told him they both would get in trouble and that she wouldn’t love him anymore if he told anyone about the abuse.
The boy said Furst touched him almost every day for several years but that the abuse tapered off about three years ago when Parys started working from home. At that time, Furst stopped touching him on the couch but continued doing so outside or in booths, he said.
The four indictments for aggravated felonious sexual assault that Furst is charged with were filed in two batches, the earlier ones in September 2012 and then two more following in December 2012. The second group came after the boy sat down for a second recorded interview with the Child Advocacy Center, the county office where minors are often interviewed in relation to criminal investigations.
Both of those interviews were played in court yesterday, with the jury breaking for the night about 20 minutes into the second tape. They will finish watching it when the trial resumes at 9:30 a.m.
Hunt received permission from Judge Richard McNamara before the trial began to play both interviews in their entirety, saying in a motion that inconsistencies between the two statements led the state’s Division of Children, Youth and Families in April to reverse its own finding that Furst had abused her son.
Merrimack County Attorney Scott Murray has called DCYF’s decision “irrelevant” to his office’s case.
In both recordings, the interviewer told the boy that one of her rules was that he had to be honest. And he agreed that he would.
In the first tape, the boy definitively said he was only abused on the couch and that Furst never said anything to him about what would happen if he told others what she had done. At the end, Bethany Cottrell, the Child Advocacy Center’s executive director, invited him to come back and talk to her again if he thought of anything else he wanted to share.
Five months later, he did. And in that interview he added other places where the abuse happened and told the interviewer that Furst said she wouldn’t love him anymore if he talked about what had happened.
Cottrell asked the boy what made him remember more details.
“I don’t know,” he said.
She asked if the events really happened.
“Or did someone tell you to say these things?” Cottrell asked.
“They really did happen,” he said. “And I know that Judy would never do something like that.”
The fact that Cottrell had not suggested Parys coached him was not lost on Hunt, who told the jury during his opening statement to pay attention to that moment in the interview.
Yesterday, though, Coull repeatedly asked the boy the same question.
“Has anybody ever told you anything to say?” he asked
“No,” the boy said. “Except just tell the truth.”