With no physical evidence to rely on, prosecutors turned to a victim’s memories at trial Tuesday to prove a series of rapes took place more than 30 years ago in Silver Spring.
One victim, now in her 40s, took the stand late Monday after opening arguments in Montgomery County Circuit Court, continuing her testimony Tuesday morning about the numerous times she and her younger sister were raped by the defendant, 49-year-old Christopher Michael Chamblin.
According to the victim, Chamblin, who was her neighbor at the time, engaged her in sexual activity and raped her “about once a week,” from 1978 to 1980.
Because the abuse allegedly took place so long ago, Assistant State’s Attorneys Debbie Feinstein and Dana Kaplan relied on the victim’s memories of the rapes in their questioning Tuesday, causing Assistant Public Defender Alan Drew to object when he learned that the victim had looked at several old photographs of herself Monday night to refresh her memory of when the abuse took place. Several of the photographs had dates written on the back of them, Drew said.
“One of the issues in this case deals with the dates,” Drew told Judge Marielsa A. Bernard before testimony resumed Tuesday. “... I don’t think that the rule [of witnesses] contemplates a witness going about and conducting their own investigation into the case.”
Feinstein argued that the victim did not violate the rules of the court by examining the photos outside of her direct testimony as the alleged timeline of the rapes spanned several years over 30 years ago.
“The rule on witnesses doesn’t forbid her from refreshing her own memory,” Feinstein said. “... This is a case that happened 30 years ago.”
Bernard allowed the photographs, but not the dates written on them, into the trial on the strength of Feinstein’s arguments. The victim herself admitted remembering some incidents more clearly than others and tended to order specific instances of rape in relation to other significant events of her childhood.
“A lot of how my memory works is by tying specific memories to another event,” she said.
The victim recalled at least five instances when she said Chamblin sexually abused and raped her in the months leading up to her older brother’s wedding in May 1978. The last instance she recalled was in the fall of 1980 just before Chamblin moved to Florida to attend college. Chamblin now lives in Florida.
The victim also addressed her reluctance to come forward with the charges at the time, saying Chamblin had threatened to kill her family members, specifically her brothers, if she told the police about what they were doing. The victim said she first told police about the abuse in the late ‘80s, shortly after she said one of her sisters tried to commit suicide, but she left out details because she was ashamed and reluctant to remember the abuse.
Charges were not brought against Chamblin until the victim again approached police shortly before Chamblin’s arrest in March 2011, this time with more details.
Chamblin is facing 24 counts in total, including nine counts of first-degree sexual offense, six counts of second-degree sexual offense, three counts each of first- and second-degree rape, two counts of third-degree sexual offense and one count of child abuse, according to court documents.
The trial is expected to last through the end of the week and covers counts one through 21, according to court documents. A second, three-day trial will begin June 13 for counts 22 through 24, the documents state.