The Iowa Supreme Court has upheld a lower court ruling blocking the videotaped testimony of a slain Cedar Rapids girl from the trial the man accused of sexually abusing her. The district court ruled that a videotape statement from ten-year-old Jetseta Gage could not be used in the sexual abuse trial of James Bentley as the statements would violate Bentley’s constitutional right to confront a witness against him.
Gage was interviewed by a counselor in November of 2004 and during the videotaped interview made numerous statements James Bentley sexually abused her. Bentley’s brother Roger was convicted of murder for killing Gage in March of 2005. The State appealed the district court ruling saying the statements made by Gage were not testimony because a reasonable child Gage’s age would not have understood her statements would be used to prosecute the defendant.
The High Court however says the statements made by Gage lie at the very core of the definition of "testimonial." The Justices say Bentley’s right to confront witnesses against him is an essential constitutional right, and they must be vigilant in guarding against its erosion. Because Bentley has no opportunity to cross-examine Gage, the admission of her testimonial statements would violate Bentley’s right to confront witnesses against him.
The Supreme Court ruling will keep the taped testimony of Gage out of the state trial against Bentley. James Bentley was tried in March of this year and convicted by a federal jury for making Gage pose for sexually-explicit pictures. He was given a 100-year prison sentence on that conviction. Older brother Roger Bentley was sentenced to life in a state prison without possibility of parole for the kidnapping and murder of Gage.