Victim of alleged sex crimes involving a Nacogdoches woman takes the stand on day 3 of the trial

Debra Choate (Source: Trinity County Jail)
Debra Choate (Source: Trinity County Jail)

GROVETON, TX (KTRE) - In the third day of testimony in the trial of a Nacogdoches woman accused of letting a man have sex with a 13-year-old girl, the Texas Ranger who assisted with the investigation again took the stand Wednesday morning.

Debra Bawcom Choate was indicted in 2012 for one charge of endangering a child, two charges of sexual performance of a child, and one count of conspiracy of aggravated sexual assault of a child.

The charges stem from two 2011 incidents in which Choate allowed a man she met on a dating site to have sex with a 13-year-old girl. Authorities said she had several talks with the man about the encounters with the child.

Her co-defendant, Scott Frels, is currently serving two 70-year terms of aggravated sexual assault of a child and a 20-year term for indecency with a child.

Testimony started with defense attorney John Heath cross examining Steve Rayburn, the Texas Ranger who assisted the Trinity County Sheriff's Office with the investigation.

Heath asked Rayburn about the ENCASE exam he had done on two computers.

"I was looking to see if there was any child pornography," Rayburn said. "I thought it would have been a great help."

Heath asked if Rayburn had any information that there could have been any child porn.

"[Frels son] told me that at one point he saw his dad looking at porn," Rayburn said.

Heath moved on by asking if he ever heard Frels' son say he molested another child.

"I can't testify to that," Rayburn said. "I never took [his son's] statement. I just got information from his written statement."

Heath then moved on to the morning after the incident at the Steel Horse Saloon, asking Rayburn about when Frels admitted to what happened.

"He started out denying [around 3 p.m.], but we got him to start admitting [around 6 p.m.]," Rayburn said.

Heath then started a lengthy set of questioning about why DNA was not taken from the bedroom of Frels house.

"Isn't it crime scene 101 to collect DNA?" Heath asked.

"It's not of great value to find Frels seamen on his bed in his house," Rayburn said.

Heath asked if it would have been beneficial for them to collect DNA of any piece of the child's clothes, a spot of blood left behind, or swabbed the sheets for the victim's bodily fluid.

"It could, but Frels said he and her were in the bed," Rayburn said.

Heath asked again if a blood sample could have helped.

"There's not a test that I know of that can prove the blood came from the vaginal area," Rayburn said.

Rayburn continued by saying that it could have helped, but it wouldn't have been a smoking gun like Heath was making it out to be.

"If it was an unknown suspect, it would have been of great value, but in this case where the man said he did it in his bed, it was not," Rayburn said.

Heath moved on to questioning about cell phone data and how it could have placed all of the parties involved. Rayburn said the towers could have helped but would have just shown a general area and not an exact location.

Heath moved on to the questioning of what Frels son saw the night of the incident.

"People perceive what people perceive," Rayburn said. "They see what they see. A lot of factors go into it."

Heath switches his questioning back to the evidence collected in the case.

"We have to be efficient with the time we have," Rayburn said. "We have to look at the totality of it all. It's different when you have a confession to start with. It's not the same as a murder investigation. This is not a who-done-it case. We know all the parties involved."

Later, there were several heated objections by both Heath and the state that ended up with the judge asking for the jury to be escorted out while he spoke with both sides. After a five-minute conference, Heath finished his question, after spending more than two hours cross examining Rayburn.

Heath asked Rayburn about a taped audio conversation between him and Choate. Heath wanted to know why Rayburn told her it was best if she stay in the car even though she was not under formal arrest.

Rayburn said that he changed his tone and said, "You can leave if you want, but I would like you to stay."

Heath then passed Rayburn back to the state for questioning.

The state asked Rayburn first about the taped interview and why it was done in his truck and not the house.

"I wanted to do the interview in my truck because I needed a quiet place where we could be heard," Rayburn said. "I needed a quiet place where we wouldn't be interrupted. There were other people in the house that could have interrupted or influenced the interview."

Rayburn was next questioned about why he collected the computers for testing.

"When I collected the computers, I was trying to determine if this agreement between [Choate and Frels] could be backed up by evidence [of child pornography] on the computer," Rayburn said.

Rayburn continued and told the state that he did later hear of some possible electronic evidence.

"I later talked to the victim," Rayburn said. "She told me that she believed Choate might have took a cell phone and took a picture of [the victim's] naked buttocks while she was asleep and then sent it to Frels. Yesterday, when I told the jury that I regretted not securing the phones, this is the number one reason why I regretted it."

The state then moves back to the using of cell phone towers to locate the location of all the parties involved. The state asked Rayburn why he didn't do it. Rayburn said this type of case is not the case he would do it in.

"I have used it in burglary cases, but the most common usage of the pinging is with fugitive apprehension," Rayburn said.

Rayburn concluded his morning testimony that went until 11:57 a.m. with a look back at his investigation.

"If I had to do the investigation all over again, I would do it the same," Rayburn said. "Except the phone. This is the most detailed case I have worked, and it wasn't even the most detailed case at that time."

Woodland Heights SANE nurse Emily May was the second witness of the day. May was involved in the exam of the victim.

"We do a complete head to toe examination of the victim," May said. "Plus a full anal and genital exam."

May said the patient told her, "me and Debra and Scott went to the Steel Horse. I was given alcohol. We went back to Scott's house. Scott went to bed and I went to bed as well. I went to his bedroom and asked to see what his thing looked like. He tried to put it in my vigina and I said it hurt. Scott stopped and started oral sex."

May said that she took the statement word for word from the victim.

The next witness to take the stand was the victim of the sexual incident. The victim said that she remembered the day of the steel horse incident. She said she was 13. The victim said she talked to Scott about 15 to 20 times before the night of the sexual incident.

The victim recalled a conversation she had with Choate.

"She said it was better for me to do it with someone who had experience," the girl said.

The victim said the first sexual encounter between her and Frels happened after Debra and her met him at the Texaco gas station on highway 94 in Lufkin.

Frels bout a six pack of wine coolers and gave them to Debra, according to the testimony.

"The victim said Choate told her to chug the drinks and hurry up and drink them.

The victim said that Choate stayed at the house with her and Frels before leaving.

"She said she had to go do some Christmas shopping," the victim said.

The victim continued and said that she went into the room with Frels and that is when they both undresses and got in the bed.

"He got on top of me and started moving," the victim said. "It lasted about 10-15 minutes."

The victim said that after the sex, Frels and her drove to the Olive Garden in Lufkin and met up with Choate. The victim said that her and Choate had a conversation in the bathroom.

"I told her I was bleeding," she said. "[Debra] said it was normal for the first time."

The victim then recalled the second incident saying that they went to the Steel Horse saloon and she had a Dr.Pepper and then several wine coolers and a couple of shots.

The victim said that she did not expect to stay at Scott's that night because it was a school night.

The victim said they rode back to Frels house. Once getting there Frels went to bed and the victim followed because it was the only room with a bed.

"He got on top of me and started moving," she said. "I told him it hurt and she stopped."

The victim said that Choate told her to say that Frels, "penis was smushy and soft", when she talked to the investigators.

Heath then started to question the victim.

The victim told Heath that she once had a laptop with facebook on it, but does not anymore. She said she was friends with Frels and Choate but removed them after the incident in December of 2012.

Heath moved on to the conversation the Choate had with the victim.

"Did she ever say when the encounter would happen," Heath questioned. "Did she say it would be a few weeks, or five years?"

The victim said no.

The Defense is expected to take control of the case tomorrow.

Key testimony started Tuesday morning.

Frels was the first key witness on the stand Tuesday. Frels agreed to take the stand if one of the sexual incidents would not be pursued by the District Attorney's Office, and he spoke of how he and Choate met on a dating Website. They had numerous sexual conversations before they got around to setting up sexual encounters for the 13-year-old girl.

"Debra told [the victim] that she wanted her to be with someone that treated her right and had experience," Frels said during Tuesday's testimony. "Debra said she needed someone like me. She would say she wanted her to be with someone who was kind and gentle like me."

Frels said that all three of them would discuss when and where the sexual encounter would happen. He added that he was told that the 13-year-old girl wanted to have sex on her birthday. During his testimony, he went into explicit detail about what happened during those encounters.

After a lunch recess, the state called Amy Donehoe to the stand. Donehoe was the SANE examiner that examined the 13 year old girl at Harold's House in Lufkin.

"I went through the usual interview," Donehoe said. "She did well."

After Donehoe left the stand, there was a closed discussion to see if the jury would be allowed to hear a tape from an interview between Texas Ranger Steve Rayburn and Choate. The judge agreed that the tape could be admissible.

In the tape, Choate first tells Rayburn that the night of the Steel Horse incident, she did drink and was too drunk to remember anything.

"When we got to Scott's house, I fell down," Choate said. "I don't remember that. My daughter had to tell me that."

She told Rayburn that she had seven beers that night and she allowed the girl to drink three wine coolers and two Jello shots.

After giving her initial story that the child was in the room with Frels, but they were both clothed and nothing happened, Rayburn asked her to tell the truth because that is not what Frels told him.

She would eventually tell Rayburn in the tape that Frels' son came to her and told her that the child and Frels were messing around in the bedroom.

According to Rayburn, Frels' son told Choate that if she would not put a stop to it that he would.

Choate responded to that by she felt bad because she was in no position to help the child.

The trial is expected to go through Nov.21

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