Teenage victim to Nacogdoches woman who set up sexual encounters: 'I forgive you'

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

GROVETON, TX (KTRE) - A jury has sentenced a Nacogdoches woman who helped a man set up sexual encounters with a girl to 52 total years in prison on four convictions.

Debra Choate, 41, received 20 years for one count of sexual performance of a child, 15 years for a second charge of sexual performance of a child, 15 years for conspiracy of aggravated sexual assault of a child and two years for endangering a child.

The sentences will be concurrent.

After Choate's sentence was handed down, the victim read a statement.

"I'm still hurting, but I'm trying to heal," the teenaged girl said. "I pray that you can begin to heal. I pray that you and Scott can get the help you need. I forgive you. I want to move on."

A Trinity County jury deliberated for six hours Thursday and found Debra Choate guilty of letting a man have sex with a 13-year-old girl.

Choate was found guilty on two counts of sexual performance of a child, one count of conspiracy aggravated sexual assault of a child, and one count of endangering 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.

The punishment phase started with the step-mother of the victim. District Attorney Bennie Shiro asked her how the victim was doing.

"Not good," she said.

Shiro asked how well they were connected.

"She is my backpack," the step-mother said. "If I went to the store, she was there. If I went to the kitchen, she followed."

Shiro asked her how the victim was after she testified on Wednesday.

"She was crying," the victim's step-mother said. "She was very upset. I told her she did the right thing by testifying and that she now can move on with her life. I had to reassure here that this was not her fault."

John Heath, the defense attorney, asked the step-mother why the victim would destroy her phone's SIM card and sell the laptop. Both were used at one point to communicate with Choate and Frels.

"I guess she didn't want them anymore," the woman said. "The SIM card did not belong to the phone I gave her at the time, it belonged to the phone [Choate] gave her."

Heath asked the victim's step-mother to recall the day a private investigator went by her house.

The woman said she remembered the day, and that she was not home. She said she called the investigator when she got home and saw his card in the window.

"I called him the next day," she said. "He didn't answer his phone so I left a message."

Heath asked about how the victim finally opened up to her step-mother.

"She would tell me little things at first," she said. "I guess she had to feel like she could trust me before she opened up."

Then Heath asked about the victim's current status.

"She's just depressed right now," she said. "She has her ups and downs."

Heath then asked how often the family has tried to talk to her about it.

"After Frels' trial, we tried to let it go," she said. "She was 13 years old when it happened. We did not want her to relive it."

Heath asked the victim's step-mother what she was told by the victim about the night of the second incident.

"She told me that she asked [Debra] what am I doing here, and (Debra) said you're doing anything he wants you to do," the woman replied.

Heath said in the Frels trial, the step mother said the victim was very upset and didn't get upset. She felt like she was getting called a liar and it was all her fault. Heath asked her if she remembered that and she said yes she did.

Heath asked if the victim ever gets mad.

"[The victim] is not the same every day," she said. "She has her ups and downs."

After the cross examination of the step mother, the state rested its case in the punishment phase.

Following a break, the defense called Choate to the stand. Heath asked her if she recalled having a conversation with the victim about "being with an older man."

"Yes we did have that conversation," Choate said. "But it was not meant for [Frels].

Heath asked Choate if she was knowingly or intentionally telling the victim to have sex with Frels, and Choate replied that she wasn't.

Referring back to Frels testimony, Heath asked Choate if she heard him and the victim say that Frels told her to bring the 13-year-old girl to his house, so they could have sex.

Choate said she did meet Frels at the gas station. She said at that time she was very limited on funds.

"We agreed to meet up," Choate said. "He wanted to take her with him, so he could look for ideas for a Valentine's Day gift for me. I was going to go window shopping. I didn't have any money to shop but was going to go window shopping. She got in the car with Frels, and I got in my van. I do not remember seeing which way they went."

Choate said the next time she saw the victim and Frels was at the Olive Garden.

"She had told me that she was starting to bleed a little bit, and I thought she had started her period," Choate said."

The victim said nothing about having sex with Frels, Choate said

Heath then brought up the second sexual encounter Frels had with the 13-year-old girl. The defense attorney asked Choate to recall what happened that night.

"When Frels asked us to go to pool and Karaoke that night, I made it clear I could not drink because I had work the next day," Choate said. "We started with having a Coke, and then Frels started buying alcohol later."

Heath asked if she saw Frels having any sexual contact with the victim, and Choate said no.

"The light was not off," Choate said. "I saw them laying on the bed, like they were just sleeping. [the victim] was half under the covers."

Then Heath asked Choate about when she entered the bed room and lay down with the victim and Frels.

"I stayed dressed," Choate said.

Choate said that she let Frels know on the site that she had kids.

"I listed the names and ages of all my children," Choate said.

Choate said she can't remember who initiated the first in-person meeting.

Choate said they had two or three phone conversations before actually meeting in person for the first time. The victim was there when they met. 

"He was an okay person," Choate said. "I talked to some people at my job that knew him."

Choate said the victim would have been vocal if she didn't want something. Choate said she wouldn't have made her do anything she didn't want to.

Heath switches his questioning back to the night of the Steel Horse incident.

Choate can't remember how much she had to drink but it was classified as many. She also told Heath that she made the decision to let the victim drink after she started drinking herself.

Choate told heath that she made decision to let victim drink after she started drinking.

"I was scared that I didn't seek medic attention," Choate said. "I was scared of what happened to her."

Choate also spoke about the victim to the jury.

"I want her to be able to do anything she wants to accomplish," Choate said. "I want her to grow and be healthy."

During his cross examination of Choate, Shiro asked her if she had lied at all during her testimony. She replied that she hadn't.

"I had no idea what his intentions were," Choate said. "He seemed to be a good person."

Choate told Shiro she never talked to authorities about the incidents until Texas Ranger Steve Rayburn questioned her.

Shiro argued that she was protecting herself because she knew it would all come to light eventually.

"I had a fear of the unknown," Choate said.

Both sides rested in the punishment phase of the trial at 2:25 p.m.

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