Defense lawyer questions child’s ability to truthfully testify at rape trial

An HIV-positive Carencro man charged in the alleged rape a boy last year has been granted a hearing to determine whether the victim, now 6 and the only witness, is competent enough to testify at a trial scheduled to begin April 28.

David Rubin, one of two Lafayette Parish public defenders appointed to defend Conwell Cormier, said in a motion filed this week that children are highly impressionable and are prone to giving unreliable accounts when on the witness stand.

Citing an appellate court ruling, Rubin said the “court must decide whether the witness is able to understand the difference between truth and falsehoods.”

“Child witnesses in particular present competency concerns,” Rubin wrote.

Judge Marilyn Castle set the hearing for May 1.

Neither of Cormier’s court-appointed attorneys, Rubin and Royale Colbert, returned a message left at their offices Friday.

Cormier was arrested April 1, 2013, and booked into the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center, where he remains on $500,000 bond.

He was indicted on June 5 on one count of aggravated rape and one count of intentionally exposing someone to the AIDS virus.

Cormier faces life in prison at hard labor without parole if convicted of the rape charge, and up to 10 years in prison if he’s found guilty of the AIDS charge.

The boy had just turned 5 when the alleged attack occurred around Jan. 1, 2013 in a Carencro mobile home park, authorities claim. Cormier lived there alone, a few trailers away from the boy and his mother, according to records.

“For child witnesses, the trial court’s determination of competence to testify should be based ‘not only upon the child’s answers to questions testing his understanding, but also upon the child’s overall demeanor on the witness stand,” Rubin wrote.

In an interview with Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office detectives George Crowder and Chris Morgan after his arrest, the detectives tell Cormier about the details the child gave of the alleged encounter with Cormier.

“Now what 5-year-old child could describe something like that?,” they asked, according to a transcript of the interview.

“One who have a sick mama,” Cormier responded.

Throughout the interview, conducted in the hours after the April 1 arrest, Cormier denies he had sexual contact with the boy.

In his motion for a competency hearing, Rubin warns of a possible action by the appellate court if there is no attempt to gauge how the child will be on the witness stand.

“(Appellate) courts will reverse a conviction where the existing record is insufficient to make a determination as to the child’s competency to testify,” Rubin wrote.