Monday, January 7, 2013

Former Ellis County Observer blog publisher's trial on sexual assault charges starts; court seats jury


By David Webb

CORSICANA, TX -- Navarro County's 13th District Court succeeded today, Jan. 7,  in seating a jury to hear former Ellis County Observer blog publisher Joesph G. Dauben's trial on sexual assault of a child charges.

Dauben's case will be heard by a jury of 12 that includes a mix of men and women and three African-Americans.

The court failed Oct. 29, 2012, to seat a jury to hear the case against Dauben, 31, whom prosecutors allege assaulted a 15-year-old male teenager in 2007 during a church camping trip. Judge James Lagomarsino declared a mistrial when only five jurors out of a pool of 62 got approved to hear the case.

After the mistrial, Judge Lagomarsino wrote a letter to the editor published in the Corsicana Daily Sun, urging county residents to show up when they received a jury summons. The county's district clerk reportedly also refined its jury summons mailing system afterwards to eliminate names on summons previously returned as undeliverable.

More than double the number of jurors reported for jury service today with the pool numbering 141. The selection process took all day, finishing at 7:30 p.m. The questions asked of the jury included if they could conceive of returning an acquittal if Dauben chose not to testify and if they could consider probation if they returned a conviction.

Dauben, who was arraigned in December 2011 on the charges of molestation four years after the alleged incident following a Texas Rangers investigation, is currently free on $50,000 bond. The former blogger received permission from the judge to not wear the ankle monitor mandated by his bond conditions while he is in the presence of the jury.

Dauben, who has pleaded not guilty to the charges and rejected all plea bargain offers from the prosecution, said in previous interviews no inappropriate contact occurred between him and the teenager during the camping trip. The teenager, who is now 20, alleged that Dauben touched him inappropriately and engaged with him in oral and anal sex.

Dauben's arrest was widely reported by East Texas newspapers, WFAA Channel 8 in Dallas and magazines and newspapers in Dallas. The blogger, who occasionally also published small newspapers in Dallas suburbs, gained a high profile from media coverage about his gonzo style of journalism that drew widespread criticism and charges of unfairness and recklessness.

In November 2012, an Ellis County jury found Dauben guilty of "fraudulent use of identifying information" in connection with a story the blogger published about a Red Oak man whose wife accused him of molesting their child. The story included the man's name, address, phone number, place of employment and a statement that he should be killed if the allegation was true, leading prosecutors to charge Dauben with violation of a law that typically is used for identity theft.

The Ellis County conviction, which called for a sentence of five-years' probation in lieu of one year in prison and a fine of $2,400, is under appeal.

Dauben's arrest on the sexual assault charge followed a raid on his home office in the summer of 2011 related to the complaint filed by the Red Oak man. Red Oak Police assisted by Henderson County officials seized all of his computer equipment and files during the raid on the home he shared with his grandmother on Cedar Creek Lake.

His indictment on the Ellis County charge occurred while he was jailed in Navarro County. Dauben spent several months in jail before his bond was reduced from $200,000 to $50,000. Then he was jailed  again last year when an Ellis County judge found that he had violated the terms of his release on bond by indirect access to the Internet.

Dauben was most recently released from jail on bond Dec. 24.

The criminal charges in Navarro County and Ellis County mark the second time for Dauben to wind up on the wrong side of the law. In 2009 he spent 12 days in jail after he published a photograph of a police officer. The charges later were dropped, and he received a $10,000 settlement from the City of Combine after he filed a lawsuit alleging wrongful arrest.












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