ALPENA - A preliminary examination for James Freese Jr. halted abruptly when one of the alleged victims indicated she had lied about sexual assaults that occurred when she was a child.
The 39-year-old former Alpena resident, his father, James William Freese, 58, and his brother, Andrew Joseph Freese, 29, were accused in November of multiple counts of criminal sexual penetration of underage girls.
Kay Steudle of Alpena sat expressionless and unmoving on the witness stand in 88th District Court Tuesday afternoon, capping the testimony of three girls between the ages of 6 and 17, and two women 27 and 36 years old.
In almost inaudible one-word answers, she agreed with Alpena County Prosecutor Ed Black about statements she made to sheriff's Deputy Cash Kroll. Last year, she told the investigator about the times she had been groped by Freese, who is her cousin.
Under questioning, she also made an effort to narrow down the dates when the assaults occurred, having provided specific details about a graduation party and a Christmas bonfire.
But when asked if those statements to Kroll were true, Steudle said no.
Freese's attorney, Mike Lamble, then argued that if Steudle falsley accused Freese of the crimes, she needed to be provided with counsel. He also said the Freese family had been under duress since the charges surfaced in November 2013 and they could be in a position to sue.
Asked if she wanted counsel, Steudle said yes.
A six-year-old girl, who is related to Steudle, also took the stand at one point - her blond hair and dark eyes barely visible above the witness stand.
In gentle questioning by Black and Judge Theodore O. Johnson, the youngster said Freese touched her in a "bad spot" while she was going to the bathroom. He was babysitting her at the time.
The youngster would not look at Freese and occasionally sank behind the wood partition.
When asked to identify him at the prosecutor's urging, she stepped out of the witness box, and looked around, but said she didn't see him.
Freese was sitting at the defense table in a blue and white striped shirt, and dark pants, his neatly trimmed hair sprinkled with grey, wearing a goatee and mustache. Images of him released by law enforcement in November 2013 showed him with long hair and beard and with closely cropped hair and neat facial hair.
The afternoon's first witness was 27-year-old Samatha Dunkleberger, who alleged Freese had sexual contact with her when she was 15. Recovering from gall bladder surgery, she fell asleep on a basement couch at her parents home only to wake when she felt Freese touching her inappropriately with his fingers while masturbating.
"I remember all of it," she said. "I don't think I have ever been so shocked in my life."
Dunkleberger became emotional when she said she later told her mother about the assault, but the woman did nothing, despite having been a rape victim herself.
When Black asked why, Dunkleberger said: "My mother did not want to make a big deal of it because the Freeses were selling her marijuana at the time."
She also said she is estranged from her family, who have accused her of lying.
Dunkleberger was occasionally sharp when Lamble sought details about the assault. When he asked her how long Freese allegedly penetrated her, she said, "I did not have a stopwatch, sir."
Lamble asked another alleged victim, Tammy M. Miller, if her admitted drug and alcohol use had affected her memory. Like her sister, Kay Steudle, Miller was slow to respond and showed little emotion. But she said Freese allegedly penetrated her numerous times starting when she was 12 or 13 years old.
"I've been trying to shut it out of my mind," she said.
When asked why she never told anyone about the assaults, Miller said, "I wasn't supposed to tell anybody. It was a secret."
Like Dunkleberger, Miller said she was asleep when Freese would touch her.
Johnson ordered a continuance in the examination, and the attorneys will try to regroup once Steuble gets an attorney to defend her.
The break was a relief to the Freese family. Father and son James and Andrew Freese are represented by attorney John Poch, who pleaded for an adjournment. Andrew Freese told Johnson his wife is expecting a baby and labor will be induced.
Betsy Lehndorff can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 358-5693. Follow Betsy on Twitter @bl_alpenanews.