By: Jennifer Britt
The Parsons Advocate
In February of 2020 Darrell “Gene” Spitznogle was formally charged with sexual assault and abuse after a juvenile male family member disclosed that he had been touched in inappropriate manners and was forced to touch the defendant. The juvenile was aged nine through 11 during the time of abuse. The abuse was said to have taken place at the Sawmill Lodge located in Davis, and on one occurrence in a hotel in Morgantown.
The juvenile had been displaying behavior issues at home and at school which lead to him being hospitalized at the Psychiatric Institute in Washington (PIW) The juvenile testified that during this stay he was heavily medicated and spoke the details of his abuse to the staff. The staff called in the Child Advocacy Center (CAC) to conduct an interview. That interview was then turned over to the Tucker County Sheriff’s office on February 13, 2020. The juvenile male was 16 at the time of the interview.
The Tucker County Sheriff’s office brought Spitznogle in for questioning and during that interview Spitznogle denied having any sexual relations with the juvenile. According to the report prepared by the Sheriff’s office Spitznogle stated he had never touched the juvenile’s genitals, seen him naked or mistreated him in any way.
After four hours of the jury selection process the jury of 12 with one standby was chosen for the trial of the state of West Virginia vs. Spitznogle and was reigned over by Judge J. Courrier. The jury consisted of eight women and five men to decide whether the state had proved sufficient evidence to convict Spitznogle of one count of first-degree sexual assault and six counts of first-degree sexual abuse.
Prosecuting Attorney Savannah Hull Wilkins and co-counsel Assisting Prosecuting Attorney Frank Bush for the state of West Virginia were in charge of providing the burden of guilt. In a criminal case, the prosecution bears the burden of proving that the defendant is guilty beyond all reasonable doubt. This means that the prosecution must convince the jury that there is no other reasonable explanation that can come from the evidence presented at trial.
In her opening remarks to the jury, Wilkins said, “Just so you know what you are listening for, first-degree sexual assault is committed when someone over the age of 14 has sexual intercourse or sexual intrusion with someone under the age of 12 to whom they are not married. First-degree sexual abuse is committed when someone over the age of 14 has sexual contact with someone under the age of 12. The evidence we are about to present will establish that the defendant did those crimes.”
Wilkins continued explaining to the jury that they would hear from five witnesses that included testimony from the juvenile male (18 at the time of the trial), Tucker County Chief Deputy Sigley, the mother of the juvenile, the father of the juvenile and cousin of the defendant and licensed phycologist expert Dr. Rodney Mccullough, PSYD.
Wilkins in her opening remarks to the jury said, “(the juvenile male) is going to tell you that between the ages of nine and 11 he was sexually abused and sexually assaulted by the defendant, Darrell Spitznogle. He will tell you that the defendant would let him pick out candy from the store, get his favorite drink, give him hot chocolate and pizza. They played video games together. They watched movies together. The kind of guy a kid would like to hang out with. He is also going to tell you that he was repeatedly sexual abused by the defendant including the defendant taking (the juvenile’s) hand and putting it on his penis and he also put his hands on (the juvenile’s) penis. Eventually the defendant would put his penis in his anus while (the juvenile) told him no and tried to get away.
You are going to hear from Chief Deputy Sigley about his investigation into this case. He is going to present some evidence that the defendant has a lustful disposition towards children.
You are going to hear from each of (the juvenile’s) parents and they are going to tell you what they observed during this period of time and maybe some of the changes they observed in (the juvenile’s) behavior.
And finally, you are going to hear from a Rod Mccullough. He is a licensed phycologist who specializes in treating children who have been victims of childhood sexual abuse. He is going to talk about his treatment of (the juvenile) as well as his observations when reviewing (the juvenile’s) initial disclosure.”
Spitznogle’s defense team consisted of public defenders Morris Davis and Brent Easton. Davis provided the opening remarks to the jury. Davis said, “Today our client is Darrell Gene Spitznogle, and I am going to refer to him as Gene. We are here today because certain allegations have been made against Gene. I do not need to go into those, you guys are already aware of those allegations by the statement the prosecutor just made. The evidence you are going to hear in today’s trial is that one and only one of the state’s witness’ has first hand knowledge of what happened.
The person that has that knowledge is the alleged victim. You are going to hear from (the juvenile) and a number of other people that (the juvenile) talked to and communicated with after he made his disclosure.”
Morris went on to explain that no one else would come forward to say they have experienced the same as the accuser and that the state’s case was based solely on testimonial evidence. Morris said, “You are not going to hear from a forensic expert. You are not going to hear from a blood expert or serologist. You are not going to hear about DNA evidence or physical evidence that was collected from the victim. What you are going to hear is testimony from the victim and the people the victim told. Creditability of the victim is going to be the main issue in this case.”
The victim was called to the stand to provide testimony on the events that occurred starting in the year of 2013 when the victim was nine years old. The victim testified that Spitznogle touched him in his genitals over 20 times through the course of three years. During those three years, the victim stated that Spitznogle would have him in his room at the Sawmill Lodge playing video games or making him hot chocolate and then would proceed to pull his pants down to fondle his privates.
The victim testified that Spitznogle took him to a hotel in Morgantown and tried to force him to have anal sex with him and how it ended only by him screaming over and over. The victim also testified that on several occasions the accused forced him to fondle Spitznogle’s privates until he ejaculated. The victim further testified that the defendant showed him pornographic material of female autonomy parts from Spitznogle’s phone.
When the victim was asked why he never told anyone he said, “I felt really embarrassed and I was already picked on in school. I did not want to be called gay or made fun of even worse. He told me that if I told them (his parents) the business would never make it (referring to the Sawmill in Davis where Spitznogle worked with the victim’s mother and father, after the father’s uncle gave Spitznogle a job as a housekeeper. He would tell me things like he would hurt my dad.”
The court convened for the day and reconvened the following day and started with the testimony from Chief Deputy Sigley. Sigley testified that he was present during the recorded interview process with the defendant. Wilkins presented the court and jurors with the recorded interview with the defendant.
During the recording Spitznogle reported at first that he rarely hung out with the male but as the interview went along, he admitted to going on walks with the male, having the juvenile in his room playing video games and watching movies, letting the minor drive his truck, and taking the juvenile with him to Morgantown to visit family.
On the recording playback Spitznogle could be heard saying, “I am telling you now, there was nothing that ever happened with that boy. I do not know what is going on or why he is doing this. I did not do anything with him.”
When asked if the victim had ever seen him naked Spitznogle replied, “Everybody knows that when they come to my place I am sitting there in my underwear. I let everybody know that, but I leave pair of shorts close by in case I need them.”
Sigley then testified he found prior convictions that during a review of the defendant’s prior criminal history that led Sigley to believe that Spitznogle had a lustful disposition towards children. Those prior convictions consist of guilty pleas to charges in Monongalia County for first-degree sexual assault and sexual assault of a child by a parent in 1994. The victim in this case was the stepdaughter of Spitznogle and was of the age five to eight.
During cross examine by the defense attorney Sigley was questioned about a report done of an interview with a witness, a friend of the victim, and was not presented in the police file. Defense attorney Morris asked if the prosecution was hiding something by not presenting the report for evidence. Wilkins objected and stated that the report was in fact included in the disclosure for the defense, but the witness was not present to testify of its authenticity. Hence, they were not hiding anything as stated by the defense.
Morris entered the interview report into evidence and asked Sigley to read it. The report stated that the victim had told the interviewed witness that he had been abused by the defendant and she wanted to tell the victim’s family but was afraid to. The defense’s stand on submitting the report was an attempt to rebuttal previous testimony from the victim that he never had intention of ever telling anyone what happened to him but because of the heavy medication at the psych ward he told the counselors there.
In the report the witness stated that the victim had told her that he had went to Spitznogle’s room where he made the victim a hot chocolate and then pulled his pants down and made the victim touch him.
The victim’s mother took the stand next. Wilkins entered into evidence pictures of the victim showing the age of the victim at the time of the events. With tears in her eyes the mother stated which child was her son in the photos taken from when he went to camp in the summer of 2013. The mother described herself as being a “helicopter” mom and how she feels like she let her son down.
The mother testified that she knew about the prior charges against the defendant and had fought to not allow Spitznogle to come to work at the Sawmill Lodge. She testified that her husband’s uncle had wanted to give Spitznogle a job and a second chance to get his life in order. She always testified that she felt because the prior charges were with a young female child that her son was not in immediate danger but kept her daughter away from Spitznogle.
The mother while crying said, “I talked to my daughter about things because I was worried for her given his (Spitznogle’s) past. So, I did not want them alone. It did not dawn on me that (the victim) being a boy that it would be an issue. His past was against a girl not a boy, so I assumed his past was towards females not children.”
The mother explained during her testimony how the victim’s mannerisms and behavior changed after the events occurred in the juvenile’s life. The mother said, “He started misbehaving in school. He did fairly well in school through third grade. Fourth grade is when things started falling apart. He was getting into trouble for acting out during school. He stopped bathing. He started withdrawing and did not want to participate in things with us.
The school thing is what got me the most. I got calls from the teachers all the time. I tried to help (the juvenile). I would talk to him, and he would have outburst and say things like “you do not know, you just do not know” and he would storm off.”
After talking with professionals, the mom now understands that the actions of her son were not the usual hormonal actions of a boy. The mother said changes in her son’s attitude towards Spitznogle severely changed after their trip to Morgantown.
The mother testified she found out about the abuse during her son’s stay at PIW. She stated she had received a call from the school counselor that her son had told a fellow student that he wanted to harm himself. The counselor suggested the parents take the victim to a hospital to be evaluated. They took him to a hospital in Oakland and during the drive the victim was in a constant state of turmoil pulling at his hair and trying to get out of the car. The mother said, “He was not ok. He was quite angry at himself. I had to actually call the hospital and have people waiting outside to get him in the hospital.”
After his evaluation in Oakland the victim was transferred to PIW for further treatment and because he was not on the medication that calmed him at Oakland he went into another fit and had to be heavily medicated upon arrival at PIW. At which point the victim testified he told the story of what happened to him.
Further testimony was heard from the father of the victim that reiterated what the mother had testified to earlier. Testimony was also heard from Dr. Rodney Mccullough, PSYD that the victim was treated by and had showed the signs of abuse. Mccullough testified that he treated the victim on several occasions via tele health which is video calls made with each person present. Mccullough testified that the victim was depressed, and experienced thought confusion and sleeplessness due to trauma.
Mccullough stated that the victim was experiencing what is commonly known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) with bouts of depression, thought confusion, paranoia, anger and self-withdrawal. Mccullough explained that the process of Spitznogle buying candy, drinks, pizza, play video games, and watching movies with the victim is known as grooming. This grooming enables the perp to gain an emotional bond with the victim as well as the victim’s trust.
During his testimony Mccullough stated that 63 percent of males are abused before the age of 18, and most do not ever report it.
Spitznogle took the stand to defend himself stating that the victim was lying, and he never did anything to the boy. He confused to spending time with the victim in his room alone and taking him on a trip to Morgantown where they stayed the night in a hotel.
When questioned about his prior charges Spitznogle stated that he said the guilty plea because his lawyer had suggested he do so to save him from spending many years in prison. He stated under oath on the stand that he lied about doing the acts he was accused of doing to his stepdaughter. Spitznogle also stated that the prior charges put a target on his back because he was labeled as a sex-offender and the victim used this to get out of the way.
Spitznogle was originally charged with 16 felony counts of sexual abuse in the prior case. He signed a statement saying he had vaginal and oral sexual intercourse with his stepdaughter that was five to seven years old.
During closing arguments both the defense and the state went over the testimony of the witnesses. Bush for the state of West Virginia argued that Spitznogle has lustful intentions towards children and was guilty of the crimes of which he was charged. Easton for the defense argued there had been no photos, no videos, no eyewitnesses or anything on social media and the case was based solely on the creditability of the witnesses and the believability of their testimony.
Both sides rested their cases and after lengthy jury instructions the jury was sent to deliberate a verdict of guilty or not guilty. The jury was sequestered at 5:17 p.m. to deliberate and returned to the court room with a verdict around 6 p.m.
The jury of 12 found Darrell Spitznogle guilty of first-degree sexual assault and guilty of six counts of first-degree sexual abuse. Sentencing is scheduled for October 17 at 1:30 p.m. providing all paper work and sentencing evaluations had been completed.
The name of the victim and his family have been omitted to protect their privacy.