CORSICANA, TX -- Against his lawyer's advice, controversial former Ellis County Observer blog publisher Joseph G. Dauben testified Jan. 10 in his trial on child sexual assault charges.
Dauben appeared to briefly lose control of his emotions and sob during two previous days of graphic testimony by prosecution witnesses about his alleged sexual misconduct with a 14-year-old male at a church camping trip in 2007. But when he took the witness stand he quickly returned fire. Just a few minutes into his testimony, the former blogger declared himself a victim of a conspiracy orchestrated by Ellis County's political establishment.
"Those allegations are absolutely false," said Dauben, who rejected four plea bargain offers from the prosecution prior to the trial, including one that would have deferred probation for 10 years but required him to register as a sex offender for life. "I've been waiting for this trial for a long time."
Dauben continued to profess his innocence in response to defense attorney Ed Jendrzey's questions as Assistant District Attorney Andrew Wolf repeatedly objected to the former blog publisher's answers being beyond the scope of the questions actually asked him by his attorney.
After repeated motions for objection and sustainments, it took a gavel-slamming from Judge James Lagomarsino of Navarro County's 13th District Court to quieten Dauben in mid-sentence at one point.
During his testimony, Dauben denied engaging in the four counts of sexual assault detailed by his accuser, who is now 20, the previous day. He repeatedly responded, "That is absolutely 100 percent false," when asked if he provided liquor to three teenagers, if he entered a shower house at Navarro Mills Reservoir Park with the 14-year-old and if his story about the evening had varied since he was indicted in December 2011.
Dauben told the jury he believed he was "set-up" for prosecution by the father of the 14-year-old, who briefly attended the Saturday Bible Study meetings of the Olive Tree Ministries church in Waxahachie. The former blogger said he believed he was targeted because of his investigative reporting that he claimed shut down a halfway house called Kevin's House because of a sex scandal.
Although his case was investigated by the Texas Rangers and the Navarro County Sheriff's Department, Dauben said he believed that Ellis County's political establishment had managed to get him indicted and arrested. He claimed that his investigative stories had angered a judge, the probation department and elected officials in Ellis County.
Dauben admitted being "buzzed," but he denied losing control as a result of drinking alcohol the evening of the alleged sexual assault. "I was not intoxicated to the point I didn't know what was going on," he said.
Dauben said the 14-year-old had taken a bottle of Wild Turkey from his father's tent and brought it to the campfire where the four were talking. The former blogger said he took a swig from the bottle, but the youth drank more of it.
The former blogger said he was not supervising the teenagers, but he now realizes it was wrong to be drinking alcohol with them. He said that he took "full responsibility" for not acting more responsibly in regard to not objecting to underage teenagers drinking alcohol.
"I don't believe it was appropriate for anyone to be drinking out there," said Dauben, who noted he has not had a drink of alcohol since Nov. 26, 2011.
Dauben said that after the 14-year-old asked him for a ride in his inflatable boat in a cove of the lake, he initially agreed but thought better of it soon after they left shore. The former blogger said he paddled back to the shore.
"I said, 'This does not look right. This is not right. Let's go back to the campsite,'" said Dauben, who added he put the boat up and went to bed in a church tent. The teenager presumably went to bed in his family's tent, he said.
His testimony contradicted that of the alleged victim, who said they paddled out into the middle of the cove and from there paddled to the shower house where the sexual misconduct allegedly occurred.
Dauben said he didn't see the teenager again after the camping trip, but he exchanged some electronic mesages with him. At some point soon after the camping trip, the teenager accused him of "doing something to him" that he was upset about but wouldn't tell him what it was.
Later, the teenager and two of his friends sent more messages to him with the same mysterious message, Dauben said. Instead of blocking them from sending him messages, he continued to allow the transmission of them, he said.
"I was trying to find out from him and his friends what he was accusing me of doing," said Dauben, who noted he told the pastor of the church about it.
At one point in his testimony, Dauben told the jury that taking the boat out in the lake with the teenager on it was the "biggest mistake" of his life. But he continued to deny engaging in any inappropriate activity.
"I did not do anything sexual as he has falsely accused me of doing," said Dauben, whose testimony was watched by two members of the alleged victim's family who silently watched without expression.
After Dauben stepped down from the witness stand, Jendzrey called the Ellis County Observer's former webmaster Bruce Hernandez as a witness. The former webmaster claimed that not long after the camping trip, the teenager sent him a threatening message.
"He sent me a threat to make an accusation -- that he would accuse me of being a child molester," Hernandez said. A joke that he sent the teenager in response to a message he received apparently led to the threatening message, he said. "He called me a weirdo, and he threatened to contact law enforcement.
Under cross examination by the prosecution, Hernandez acknowledged the teenager possibly could have been fearful of his intentions if a sexual assault by one of his associates had indeed occurred during the camping trip.
When the defense rested, the prosecution called Brandy Owens, the former managing editor of the Ellis County Observer to the stand. She admitted being reluctant to testify, and she acknowledged receiving a subpoena.
Owen said Dauben spoke to her about the allegations in late 2011, and that he told her he went out on the lake with the teenager and that they went to the restroom before going to their respective tents. Although she initially supported Dauben, Owens said she had doubts about the veracity of his explanation. "It just didn't sound right," she said.
Finally, the prosecution recalled Texas Ranger Jason Bobo to the stand, and he was asked if on major points known only to law enforcement and the parties involved in the alleged assault which version of events in his investigation most closely matched, Owens' or Dauben's? The Texas Ranger said Owens matched more closely.
Both the prosecution and defense have now rested their cases. When the trial resumes the closing arguments will be heard, and the jury will be given instructions and begin deliberations.