A Frankfort man facing 80 years in prison for sexually abusing a 7-year-old girl won’t be getting a second chance to plead his case in Franklin County Circuit Court.
Judge Thomas Wingate has denied a request from Travis A. Durrum for a new trial. Durrum, 30, had argued that the prosecution’s closing arguments bolstered the credibility of the child and unduly influenced the jury’s decision to convict him of several sex crimes and recommend he serve an 80-year sentence.
The motion for a new trial stemmed from Commonwealth’s Attorney Larry Cleveland telling jurors in his closing arguments that the 7-year-old girl was the “most credible witness I ever saw” and “everything she told you was true.” Durrum’s defense attorney, Mark Bubenzer, didn’t object at the time but later argued that the statements amounted to prosecutor misconduct.
However, Wingate wrote that because Bubenzer repeatedly called into question the child witness’ credibility throughout the course of the trial, Cleveland’s defense of the witness was an appropriate response.
“The Court agrees with the Commonwealth that courts grant leniency to parties during opening statements and closing arguments as these statements are not considered evidence,” Wingate wrote. “The statements at issue here did not improperly bolster the testimony of the child victim, but served as the Commonwealth’s response to continued attacks of the child victim’s testimony and credibility throughout the entire trial.”
Wingate added that since jurors spent a little more than 20 minutes before returning with a guilty verdict in the case, it showed there was little doubt among them about Durrum’s guilt that the statements could have unduly influenced.
“To a reasonable person, this short deliberation may suggest the lack of doubt that the jury had as to (Durrum’s) guilt,” Wingate wrote, “and the Court does not believe the defendant’s continuous attacks of the child victim’s credibility throughout the trial or the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s statements during closing arguments, deeming the child victim credible, had an impact on the jury’s determination of (Durrum’s) guilt.”
With the conviction standing in the trial court, Durrum will now be formally sentenced in late August. Wingate can either accept the jury’s recommendation of 80 years in prison or alter the length of the sentence. Either way, Durrum would go on to serve 85% of his sentence before being considered for parole.
In late June, Durrum was convicted of first-degree rape and two counts of first-degree sodomy, both Class B felonies, and first-degree criminal abuse of a child younger than 12 and first-degree sexual abuse of a victim younger than 12, both Class C felonies.
According to official reports, the child was in foster care before being housed with the Durrums. She was placed in the care of Travis’ wife, 25-year-old Juanita Durrum, because relatives receive preference in foster cases. While living with the Durrums, the juvenile endured sexual and physical abuse on multiple occasions over the course of more than a year, prosecutors allege.
Juanita Durrum was charged with physical abuse of the child, but the charges were dropped. She later pleaded guilty to outstanding charges she played a role in an alleged drug deal turned double homicide.