VALPARAISO — Prosecutors kicked off a child molesting trial Tuesday with the unusual revelation that the purported victim had fabricated the more serious allegations against the accused, 73-year-old Thomas Sutherlin.
The alleged victim, who is now 18, made the false claims to a friend and then police in 2016 because no one had believed her when she first came forward seven years earlier about being inappropriately touched by Sutherlin, Porter County Deputy Prosecutor David Urbanski told jurors.
"Nothing was done about that," he said.
Sutherlin denies having done anything inappropriate with the alleged victim and remains "shocked and angry" about the allegations, said defense attorney Jesse Harper.
"He has been wrongfully accused," Harper said during opening arguments in the trial. "He did not do this."
There is a lot at stake this week for Sutherlin, who faces an A felony charge that carries a potential prison term of 20 to 50 years.
The accusations tied with this week's trial allege that Sutherlin molested the girl on two occasions between February 2006 and February 2009 when she was around the age of 5 and 6, Urbanski said.
The alleged victim claims Sutherlin first molested her after she witnessed him watching pornography at his Hebron home. In both instances, Sutherlin claimed the abuse was a form of punishment, she said.
While she told her parents about the abuse at the time, it was not taken seriously until 2016 when the alleged victim told a male friend that Sutherlin was still sexually abusing her, Urbanski said. The friend contacted police and the alleged victim admitted she made up claims that Sutherlin had been having sexual intercourse with her for years up to that time.
Harper said the remaining allegations of having been touched inappropriately are also untrue and were made up by the then-girl because she was upset that Sutherlin had spanked her.
"That spanking broke the bond they had," he said.
Both Sutherlin and the alleged victim are expected to testify this week in the trial before Porter Superior Court Judge Roger Bradford.
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