Editor’s note: The Itemizer-Observer is referring to the minor victims in this case by their initials to protect their identity, at the request of Polk County Judge Monte Campbell.
DALLAS — The jury in the Quinlyn Harden case is deliberating the charges against him as of Monday afternoon following closing arguments. Jurors remained in deliberation at press time Tuesday morning.
Harden, of Independence, faces 30 sex-abuse related charges in four separate indictments. The four cases — all connected to the now-closed Stinky Feet Child Care facility in Independence — were consolidated in May. The case was tried in Polk County Circuit Court in Dallas.
The trial began Tuesday with jury selection, and the prosecution presented evidence for three days before resting its case on Friday afternoon. The jury heard from five victims, their family members, the detective investigating the case, and experts from Liberty House, a child abuse assessment center in Salem that interviewed some of the victims.
One of the victims in the case is related to Harden.
“This has been a long case, a lot of charges, but it’s not complicated,” said Jayme Kimberly, senior assistant attorney for the Oregon Department of Justice, who is prosecuting the case on behalf of Polk County. “Either the defendant used his mother’s day care as a pool to abuse children, or children from four different families came in and lied to you.”
Witness testimony began with the first victim to come forward, J.A., who claimed to have been abused by Harden from the age of 2 to 12.
Three charges of first-degree sex abuse were filed in March of 2018 and resulted in Harden’s arrest. In April 2019, the youth disclosed more information resulting in more charges of sex abuse and rape. The charges from both indictments were merged into the same case.
J.A. said she came forward because of what she learned in a health class at her middle school.
“I know it was wrong,” she said. “In class we were talking about hurtful relationships and how people can hurt you.”
She talked to a school counselor, who called the police.
In her testimony, J.A. give details of incidents in which she accused Harden of inappropriate touching and rape that occurred at the day care, where Harden lived at the time. She said the incidents happened in his bedroom, in the kitchen, in the shower and in the hallway outside his room.
She also testified to abuse and rape that happened outside of Polk County in his truck, on a camping trip and on a trip to Newport.
Harden’s defense attorney Martin Habekost questioned J.A. on details of those incidents, asking her to recall features of the truck and the location Harden pulled over on the road. J.A. often said she didn’t recall.
Heather Perez, a forensic interviewer at Liberty House, testified for the state. She has conducted more than 700 interviews with children who were victims of abuse.
She said a child’s memory of an event can vary depending on age, development, whether they have disabilities, or the amount of trauma they suffered. Perez said it’s not uncommon for especially young children to not accurately remember when something happened to them, or to remember details that have nothing to do with what happened to them. They will recall what they feel, smell, hear and see.
“It’s kind of anchoring to that event,” she said.
Perez testified that it’s not unusual for children to not reveal everything that happened to them at once.
“That is very common. Disclosure is a process,” Perez said. “They will say a little bit of information and see how that is received.”
J.A. said she didn’t disclose everything that happened to her in the first interview with Liberty House because she was afraid she would have to take tests to look for sexually transmitted diseases. Kimberly said J.A. refused an exam at Liberty House.
“She didn’t want a doctor touching her,” Kimberly said.
Kimberly said when Harden was arrested, two families who used the day care or were friends with the Hardens were quick to offer support. The parents of the next two children, L.B. and C.B, to come forward were ready to tell investigators about their positive experience.
“(Their mother) was ready to write a letter of support for Ceola Harden (Quinlyn’s mother and owner of Stinky Feet Child Care),” Kimberly said. “Then L.B. walked into the kitchen with tears in her eyes and said, ‘it happened to me.’”
Later, L.B.’s older brother came forward. Those charges were filed in June and included sex abuse and sodomy. The children had not attended the day care for several years at the time they reported the incidents to police.
Habekost questioned why, in a family described as attentive and engaged with their children, did the accusations not come up before. He said L.B.’s memory of her assault involved a man with a hairy chest. He said his client did not have a hairy chest. He provided the jury a photo of his client from 2010.
“That is something that you should debate,” he said.
Kimberly said the assault took place in 2012.
“What does a hairy chest feel like to a 5-year-old?” she asked.
A fourth child, K.C., spoke to investigators in December of 2018. She was attending high school and reported incidents of what were charged as sodomy and sex abuse to a counselor.
K.C. and J.A. were at the day care at the same time and acknowledged to each other what Harden was doing to both of them.
J.A. said the conversation was brief and didn’t include any details of the incidents. They both acknowledged Harden was “paying attention” to them on different days.
She said that conversation was the only contact she had with the other victims in the case.
“There is no evidence that they socialized together,” Kimberly said. “They agreed to keep it a secret.”
Habekost questioned K.C.’s foster mother about her daughter’s relationship with J.A. She said they were not friends.
“I think I remember that they didn’t really like each other very much,” she said.
The last victim to come forward, J.B., also came from a family that initially supported the Hardens. He was 18 and about to head off to college when he contacted investigators.
“He struggled. He knew this was out there,” Kimberly said. “He heard his parents talk about it. He knew his mom supported Ceola, and he suspected his mom was skeptical about all these allegations. As he saw more of this, he saw his parents talk about it and he saw his mom support Ceola. He came forward.
“He wasn’t coming forward as a victim; he was coming forward as a witness.”
Kimberly said he wanted to show that these other kids were telling the truth. It had happened to him, too.
Habekost had a different theory on why J.B. came forward: money. He said he first contacted the law firm that initiated a civil suit against the Hardens, but also several local and state agencies.
“Civil lawyers don’t get involved unless there is money,” he said.
Habekost presented his case on Monday morning. He argued in closing statements that the investigation wasn’t conducted correctly in that Independence Detective Sarah Scharf coached one of the victims during an interview and didn’t fully check out their stories.
Habekost asked if Scharf sought a search warrant for the day care. Scharf said no, and she didn’t believe one would be issued based on the length of time between when the incidents reportedly happened and when they were reported.
Habekost asked if she went to the day care to see if there was a bedroom and shower upstairs and other details about the house that the children reported. Scharf said she did not. She had the same response to questions about examining Harden’s truck or going to the location where J.A. claimed they stopped. She said she didn’t go see the boat docks in Newport or the campground J.A. spoke of in her interviews and testimony.
Another child reported incidents that occurred outside of Polk County.
Habekost asserted that the victims were lying or misremembering incidents that didn’t involve his client.
“The thing that bothers me the most is that (Scharf) does the exact thing you are not supposed to do: coach them,” Habekost said.
He said in one interview, Scharf told a child, “You are saying all the right things.”
“The state’s experts say not to coach,” Habekost said. “That provides reasonable doubt.”
He said that there are other explanations for what some of the victims reported. Some of the alleged crimes could have been committed by a different person.
“It’s not an either-or as the state wants you to believe,” Habekost said.
Habekost asserted in the case of the family related to Harden that the accusations were revenge of one of the parents involved.
Kimberly disputed that in her closing arguments, saying that there was no ill will until the child came forward with allegations of abuse.
Habekost said the case started as a snowball and ended in an avalanche of charges and media coverage.
Kimberly said, if that’s true, it was of Harden’s making.
“If there’s a snowball here, it is when he abused his first victim,” Kimberly said. “He is the avalanche. He is not the victim here. He created this snowball.”
Harden has been in custody at the Polk County Jail since March 16, 2018, when he was arrested on three counts of first-degree sex abuse involving a girl younger than 14.
Harden’s mother, Ceola Harden, owned and operated Stinky Feet Childcare, where most of the crimes are alleged to have happened.
The jury was given instructions and released to deliberate at about 3:30 p.m. on Monday.