Wednesday, February 8, 2023

7-year-old testifies against the man who allegedly chained and sexually assaulted her

The trial for convicted sex offender Douglas Nelson Edwards continued Monday morning in New Hanover County Superior Court. (Port City Daily photo / FILE PHOTO)

WILMINGTON — Day three of the trial of Douglas Nelson Edwards began Monday morning, with several key witnesses, including the victim, testifying in New Hanover County Superior Court.

Edwards, 47, a convicted sex offender, is charged with numerous crimes in relation to the kidnapping of a then 6-year-old girl from her Monkey Junction home last September.

According to previous testimony from the family, as well as authorities with the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office, Edwards made off with the victim in broad daylight, taking her to a wooded area off River Road.  There, he allegedly chained her to to a tree, sexually assaulted her and then left her for dead.

While Edwards does not dispute that he kidnapped the girl, he has pleaded not guilty to sexually assaulting the victim as well as attempted murder.

The victim’s testimony

Monday, the first witness to testify was the victim, now 7 years old, who spoke by way of a remote broadcast from presiding Judge Phyllis Gorham’s office.

The victim was accompanied by her mother, who remained off camera with a translator, as well as prosecuting attorney Lance Oehrlein and defense attorney Kenneth Hatcher.

Edwards remained motionless through much of the girl’s testimony, moving only his eyes to follow the direction of his council, giving the screen partial attention as the girl described the events from last year.

The prosecution went first, confirming the young victim understood what was happening, as well as making the need for truth clear.

Douglas Nelson Edwards. (Port City Daily photo/FILE PHOTO)
Douglas Nelson Edwards. (Port City Daily photo/FILE PHOTO)

“We want to talk to you about something that happened last year,” Oehrlein said. “Can you tell me something that happened at your house that you did not like?”

“I was taken,” the victim said through a translator.

“Can you tell us what happened? Where were you taken?” Oehrlein asked.

“To the woods,” she replied.

The victim was then asked to recount the events that followed, describing how she was taken to the woods, chained up, sexually assaulted, and finally found by “firefighters.”

At the mention of the sexual assault, Edwards began to react, shaking his head slowly from side to side, speaking to his counselor in a whisper.

Following Oehrleins questions, Hatcher began to question the victim for the defense.

“We have to talk about the terrible thing that happened to you a year ago,” Hatcher said. “And, I’m going to have to ask you a couple of difficult questions.

“There’s a little tiny bit of good news to tell you today, this may be the very last day that you have to talk about this,” Hatcher said.

Hatcher proceeded to question the victim, with the majority of the focus being on the translation between certain Spanish words related to the “private” regions of the human anatomy used in the interviews that followed her rescue.

Hatcher then asked about the nature of their encounter.

“The man did not take off your clothes, correct?” Hatcher asked.

“Yes,” the victim said through the translator.

After a few more questions, Hatcher came around to the point, pausing to speak with his team via phone call off camera.

“The man did not take his clothes off, correct?” he asked after returning.

“Yes,” she replied.

“Yes, he did?” he asked. “Or no, he didn’t?”

“He took his pants off,” she said.

An expert witness

Following the victim’s testimony, expert witness Colleen Mistovich, a registered nurse with New Hanover Regional Medical Center who specializes in the treatment of sexual assault victims, took the stand.

Mistovich was the nurse in charge of the victim’s examination, which included a “head to toe screening” that looked for signs of sexual assault, both internally and externally.

Although she didn’t know much of the story behind the victim, she painted a picture of a child who was left defenseless, at the whim of nature and the elements.

“I got a vague story, I knew there was a little girl missing, who had been found in the woods overnight,” Mistovich said. “It had been raining, she was found with a chain around her neck.”

Upon her arrival, Mistovich described the victim as, “bundled in blankets,” “wet, damp, with red raised areas” on her neck, both arms, hands, and her torso, “consistent with insect bites.”

Douglas Edwards (center) at an earlier appearance in District Court. Edwards is charged with the kidnapping, sexual assault, and attempted murder of a 6-year-old girl in September of 2016. (Port City Daily photo / FILE PHOTO)

According to Mistovich, these bites were so severe that they swelled up, “like hives,” requiring them to issue her Benadryl to soothe the afflicted areas. In addition, she had suffered an injury to her neck where the chains were wrapped around her, like a “choke collar.

“When we removed the blankets, you could see red linear lines going across her neck. One side had a circular area on that was raised up, that was different from lines.” Mistovich said, theorizing that the circular area was from whatever mechanism held the chains together.

Although outwardly, Mistovich said, there were no direct signs of sexual assault, they were able to collect numerous samples from various areas of the victim’s body. Upon a more detailed examination, the young girl was found to have internal injuries, indicating some sort of blunt force trauma.

“These injuries are consistent with sexual assault,” she concluded.

At this, Edwards stirred again, moving slowly, and speaking quietly in Hatcher’s ear.

The defense followed these comments with questions, which looked to discredit the accuracy of these tests. Hatcher asked if the victim could have possibly injured herself in some sort of way, rather than Edwards. Mistovich confirmed this was possible, but reiterated that the team’s findings indicated sexual assault.

Whether or not Edwards sexually assaulted the victim has become the core  issue of the case. Edwards is facing several charges, including first degree kidnapping, attempted first degree murder, assault with a deadly weapon with intent to inflict serious injury, statutory sexual offense with a child by an adult, two counts of indecent liberties with a child, and statutory rape of a child by an adult.

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