Ex-Aspen officer’s case could boil down to one question
July 15, 2010
ASPEN – Testimony in the sexual exploitation trial of former Aspen police officer Joseph Kenney Holman began Tuesday, and a jury will be pressed with answering one fundamental question: Did Holman plant a video camera in his stepdaughter’s shower stall for sexual motivations, or did he do it to make her angry?
As far as the prosecution is concerned, when Holman planted the web cam, which was the size of a Ping Pong ball, in a toy bag of the shower stall, it followed a pattern of sexual perversion for a troubled stepfather.
“When a middle-aged man puts a mini-cam in the shower of his 16-year-old stepdaughter, it’s for one reason,” prosecutor Jonathan Pototsky said in opening arguments, “especially when it’s in a toy bag.”
Pototsky claimed that even in 2007 and 2008 – before the April 29, 2009, web-cam incident – Holman inappropriately massaged his stepdaughter on at least 10 occasions, and one time planted a mirror, on the end of a stick, in the alleged victim’s room. Authorities investigated those incidents, but charges were not filed, partly because the stepdaughter at the time recanted the allegations.
Holman’s attorney, Lawson Wills, however, painted a different picture. While it’s indisputable that Holman planted the camera, his motive wasn’t of a sexual nature, Wills told the jury, comprised of 12 members and one alternate.
Instead, it was the case of a frustrated man who had lost control of his insubordinate, party-girl stepdaughter, who didn’t abide by the house rules, sent sexually explicit text messages to high school boys, drank alcohol and drove around town without a driver’s license.
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Additionally, Wills argued, the alleged victim lacks credibility because she changed her version of several stories involving Holman and had a vendetta against him, her ultimate goal being to force her mother into divorcing the then-cop.
“No doubt [the camera incident] was cruel, immoral and unethical,” Wills told the jury. “But it wasn’t criminal, and there’s no evidence the camera was working.”
He added: “It wasn’t sexual intent, and that’s the issue in this case.”
Wills also touted Holman as a working-class Aspen resident who graduated from high school here, served in Desert Storm, and spent 16 years as a city employee, including a 2003-09 stint as a police officer. He also said Holman’s emotional instability at the time of the incident was fueled by the recent death of his mother and a cousin’s suicide.
Much of Wednesday’s testimony concerned the camera Holman bought. Originally, he and his wife had bought a video camera to place in their home’s back yard because their black-lab mix had been getting off of its lead. By having a camera with a motion detector in the yard, they would be able to identify whomever was setting the dog free.
But the first camera was faulty, so Holman bought another one, without telling his wife. It was that camera that the stepdaughter found in the shower. Once she discovered it she told her mother, who called Holman in from work. Originally, Holman denied planting the camera, but later smashed it by stepping on it.
“He said I’m sorry this happened,” Wills said, adding that he destroyed the camera as a “symbolic gesture.”
The alleged victim, who’s now 17 and lives with family in California, testified for nearly two hours. Much like her testimony in a June motions hearing, the stepdaughter said she initially recanted her stories about Holman because she wanted to keep the family together. At one time, she even wrote District Attorney Martin Beeson, asking that he not prosecute Holman for the camera incident. Around the same time, she texted Holman, offering her support.
But she also told the jury she is a “different person” today than she was when she lived in Aspen in 2009. Back then she drank alcohol, smoked pot on occasion, and lived a lifestyle she does not currently condone.
“I’m admitting I lied – to save myself, to save my family, to save everything,” she said.
These days, she’s living up to her potential as a good Christian, she testified. She said that the camera incident had a deep impact on her, and she wants nothing to do with Holman.
“I was very enraged and scared and emotional,” she said. “The first thing I said was, ‘Get me a plane ticket to California.'”
But the girl testified that her mother persuaded her to change her story in order to keep the family together.
“My mom reminded me my family would be broken up,” she said.
Initially the family underwent counseling with the Department of Health and Human Services, but an agent there later notified local law enforcement, which prompted a criminal investigation.
The sheriff’s department initially got involved, but deferred the case to the Colorado Bureau of Investigations because of the potential for a conflict of interest.
The alleged victim’s mother, Michelle Holman, also the wife of Joe Holman, testified that the ordeal has been “horrible” for the family. However, she told the jury she never coached or persuaded her daughter to change or alter her story to keep the family intact. She also said she witnessed some of the massages and saw nothing improper about them.
Testimony also came from the sheriff’s office juvenile-crime Investigator Bruce Benjamin, Undersheriff Joe DiSalvo, and Ron Ryan, head of investigations for the sheriff’s office. Their time on the stand was brief, with Ryan and DiSalvo saying that Joseph and Michelle Holman were both cooperative with the investigation, before the CBI inherited the case.
Holman, 39, is charged with the felony counts of criminal attempt to commit sexual exploitation of children, criminal attempt to commit sexual exploitation of a child, and tampering with criminal evidence. He faces up to 20 years in state prison if convicted.
Holman, who resigned from the police department after being arrested on June 24, 2009, is expected to testify, Wills said in opening arguments.
The trial is scheduled to run through Friday, and Tuesday has been set aside as well.