The fourth Mineola Swingers Club case—that of Dennis Pittman—ended this afternoon with a verdict that surprised no one on either side: Guilty. The verdicts in the first two trials, in the spring of 2008, were reached in four minutes; in the third trial that summer, it took an hour and a half. In a possible sign of progress, this one took an hour and 32 minutes. With two trials to go, the remaining defendants might expect a full two hours of deliberations.
But the verdicts will almost certainly be the same. The prosecution’s case against Pittman was no different than it had been in the previous three: no physical evidence, no adult witnesses, just the often inconsistent, sometimes bizarre, usually emotional testimony of five children about learning to dance sexy at a sex kindergarten in Tyler and performing live sex shows at a swingers club in Mineola. They all initially denied any kind of sexual abuse, and it was only after several interviews that they started talking, mentioning things like witches, flying on broomsticks, and shooting a dog and hanging it on a tree in broad daylight.
It was only last month that the Fourteenth Court of Appeals overturned two of the first three cases and sent them back for new trials. Defense attorneys in Tyler are convinced this one is headed for reversal too, based on what they say were overly restrictive rulings by Judge Jack Skeen that favored the prosecution. One of these led to Margie Cantrell, the foster mother of three of the children (and, according to defense attorney Jason Cassel, “a specter in the background” of these cases), testifying with the jury not present and then pleading the Fifth Amendment, which she did about 130 times.
When they brought the jury back in for the punishment phase, Cantrell walked in with eight of her foster children where they sat in the second and third rows, only about ten feet behind the defendant. Two of her kids, holding hands with Cantrell, had testified against Pittman. Cantrell’s eyes were closed as the judge read the jury’s verdict—life in prison.
For the fourth time in two-and-a-half years, her prayers had been answered.