The alleged teenage victim in an aggravated statutory rape trial testified Wednesday that he lied about a previous molestation claim against his brother.
Defense attorneys for Ronnie Powe Jr. have attacked the teen's credibility since the trial began Tuesday.
Powe's attorneys have maintained that the teen presented himself as an adult on a website for gay blacks and told Powe he was 18 when the pair met.
The Times Free Press does not identify alleged victims of sex crimes by name.
The teen said Powe, 28, picked him up at his home after the two had sent each other messages on the website and texted back and forth for at least a week. The teen was 15 when Powe was arrested.
Hamilton County Assistant District Attorney Bret Alexander questioned the teen Wednesday afternoon about what happened between him and Powe when they met in a car.
"He asked how old I was, or how old am I. At first I told him 18," the teen replied. "He was like, no, for real. I said 17. And that's when I said 16."
But defense attorneys Bill Speek and Gerald Webb say their client never knew the teen's age and that police have no evidence that he did. They say the teen has a history of lying.
"His character trait is he lies all of the time," Speek said in an argument to Criminal Court Judge Barry Steelman after the jury was dismissed for the day.
Under questioning from Steelman, the teen admitted he'd lied about a previous allegation against his 25-year-old brother. As ammunition against the teen's credibility, Speek and Webb were trying to introduce that incident and another in which he lied to police about having intercourse with another man he met on Facebook.
That man, 19-year-old Ryan Bulloch, testified outside the presence of the jury that he had talked with the teen on the social networking website but never met him in person. He also testified that he'd never had homosexual intercourse with anyone.
Speek argued that those "misstatements or lies" by the teen amounted to character traits and credibility concerns when considering the youth's testimony.
Speek said in opening statements Tuesday that the teen still had an active profile on the gay website that now lists his age as 21.
A key element to proving the charge of aggravated statutory rape is whether the defendant knew that the alleged victim was older than 13 but younger than 18 at the time of the sex act, according to Tennessee law.
During the cross-examination of Chattanooga Police Investigator Kevin Willoughby, the lead investigator in the case, Speek pressed him on whether he had any evidence that Powe knew the teen was underage. Willoughby said he had no evidence to prove that.
Willoughby further explained during testimony that he inferred from some of Powe's comments during questioning that Powe had some knowledge that the teen was not an adult.
On Feb. 15, a Chattanooga police officer observed Powe's green Honda four-door sedan parked behind the abandoned East Lake Middle School building on 13th Street about 10:30 p.m.
Powe, who is the son of Chattanooga's United Tabernacle Church of God in Christ pastor Ronnie Powe Sr., initially told police that he was a youth pastor mentoring the troubled teen when an officer questioned him. After further questioning, Powe admitted he'd briefly performed oral sex on the teen.
Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...