Expert: ‘Memories are not perfect’

Defense rests in Mallo trial; proceedings to resume Monday morning

REED CITY — Inconsistencies and what she called “red flags” lead an expert witness in the Francis Brent Mallo trial to testify the case’s victim could potentially have false or inflated memories of sexual assault.

Mallo, of Loudon, Tenn., formerly of Evart, is charged with three counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct for allegedly assaulting a young girl in 1991 and 1992 when the girl was 11 and 12 years old. The girl often worked as a babysitter for Mallo’s children, and claims assaults would occur regularly at multiple locations in Evart.

Dr. Katherine Okla, a clinical and forensic physiologist, testified on Friday about how outside influences can impact memory.

Okla reviewed materials of the case, but never spoke with Mallo or the victim, she said.

Okla testified that memory is not perfect. It can be flawed and altered unknowingly by suggestibility.

“Memory can be affected by many things, such as outside knowledge that becomes incorporated into our own stories,” Okla said.

While testifying, Okla explained that a person who has a false or inflated memory does not realize that it is not accurate. She also explained these types of things happen to people in daily life and are not uncommon.

In looking at documents and viewing a four-hour long interview between the victim and law enforcement, Okla said she observed things she felt were red flags and could be signs the victim’s memory has been influenced by suggestibility. She further explained that suggestibility does not mean direct coaching, but could simply be picking up on outside influences.

“There were times in the interview where she referenced many discussions with therapists or things her mother said that made it seem like she had helped fill in pieces or gaps,” Okla said.

Okla also testified about studies that stated often times when children are confronted and asked if they are being abused, they admit to what is occurring. In this case, the victim’s mother has previously testified she confronted her daughter about Mallo possibly abusing her and the victim denied it.

However, in cross examination of Okla, Osceola County Assistant Prosecutor Andy LePres pointed that although the majority of children may have admitted to abuse when questioned, there are children who still will not come forward for various reasons.

Conflicting details and not being able to recall certain details also stuck out as possible causes for concern that the victim’s memories could be faulty, Okla said.

“Anytime there’s an upsetting event or something unusual that happens, there are usually more details,” Okla testified.

LePres asked if assaults happen multiple times by the same person, if it is possible that an individual not remember as many details because the memories run together.

“I think if that happens, it’s easy for a person to mix up which details happened at what times,” Okla responded.

Throughout Friday, many additional witnesses took the stand, including some of Mallo’s children and a former co-worker and friend.

Darin Gary worked with Mallo at Pineview Homes, where some of the sexual assaults are alleged to have occurred. He has remained in contact with him.

Gary was a house parent at Pineview at the same time Mallo was. He stated he never saw Mallo with the victim and also that house parents always had to be with the boys. However, he later said that someone could relieve the house parent if they had to use the bathroom or the phone.

When the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office began looking into the allegations, Gary, who lives in Kentucky, was contacted via phone by an officer and set up an appointment for a follow up phone call. Gary did not keep that appointment and did not answer further calls from the police, he testified. He even went as far as to change his number, stating he felt intimidated.

“I decided I no longer wanted to speak and had nothing further to contribute to the investigation,” Gary said.

On Friday evening, outside the presence of the jury, Mallo stated on the record he would not testify and understood his rights. After doing so, the defense rested.

After a long five-day process, Judge Scott Hill-Kennedy decided to break for the weekend and resume the trial on Monday. Court will resume at 9 a.m. on Monday in Osceola County’s 49th Circuit Court. The prosecution and defense will present closing arguments and jurors will then begin deliberations.

To catch up coverage of this trial, read the following stories:

DAY 1 and 2: Jury selected, opening statements given in Mallo trial

DAY 3: Victim testifies to sexual abuse while babysitting for Mallo

DAY 4: Victim’s mother testifies there were rumors of abuse