Victims’ parents testify in Freeman sentencing

Published 11:09 pm Tuesday, January 31, 2012

With a chain around his waist and his hands bound in front by orange handcuffs, Tripp Freeman shuffled into the courtroom Tuesday morning where more than a dozen of his victims’ families and friends were already waiting for a pre-sentencing hearing to begin.

It had been eight weeks since Freeman stood before Circuit Judge Shannon Clark and pleaded guilty to two counts of sodomy first degree, one count of enticing a child for immoral purposes and one count of attempted sodomy. Freeman refused a plea deal and threw himself on the mercy of the court, leaving the sentencing to the judge. According to the District Attorney, Freeman faces a minimum of 20 years for each sodomy conviction.

Freeman, who was 20 at the time of his arrest, was accused of sexual misconduct with children he came in contact with between 2005 to 2010 while working as a part-time scorekeeper at Troy Parks and Recreation and through Freeman’s involvement with Bush Memorial Baptist Church.

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One by one, parents of the children abused by Freeman took the stand.

“I immediately felt uncomfortable…I felt a little nervous about his interaction with kids at the ballpark,” said the first father to speak, adding that smaller incidents had sparked him to tell Freeman not to come near his children.

“His profanity was horrible,” the victim’s father said, mentioning how easily Freeman talked inappropriately in front of children who were “6, 7, 8, 9, 10 … even little ones.”

The father talked about how his son, 13 at the time, was confronted by Freeman in a sexually inappropriate way at a Relay for Life event. The father recounted seeing his son after the event. “His face was white,” the father said. “I didn’t know what it was, but I knew something was up.”

Freeman confessed to asking the 13-year-old about his genitalia among other things. The father was the first to alert the Troy Police department that Freeman might be dangerous to children.

“This could be, to me, like a ‘Dateline’ story,” the father said from the stand, noting that many families began to approach police with their own stories. The father said he personally knew of a dozen cases.

“To this day, our routine has changed,” the victim’s father said. “When we go places, I’m suspicious of people.”

The second parent to address the court was also a father. His son, now a teenager, was sexually molested at the family’s home.

The second father explained that Freeman, from time to time, would stop by their home, uninvited. One day his son and Freeman were playing in the child’s bedroom when the boy came downstairs and wouldn’t leave his mother’s side.

“He jumped on [victim] and held him down and said vile things to him,” the second father said.

At the time, the second father said he didn’t know what had happened, just that his son was distraught. At that time, he confronted Freeman and told him he was no longer welcome in their home.

A later incident involved Freeman offering the same child money at a ballpark in exchange for asking the boy to participate in inappropriate sexual behavior.

The second father recounted that day at the ballpark.

“He was just as pale white as he could be … and nervous,” the second father said, adding that he felt horrible he wasn’t able to shield his child from Freeman. “I am his protector. God gave him to me.”

The third father to speak had a different sort of connection to Freeman. He’d once been his teacher.

The third father said that he and his wife had an appointment at church and their regular babysitter had to cancel at the last minute. He said Freeman came to mind to fill in the spot.

“The boys like him,” the third father said of the decision. “He was there within minutes.”

Freeman had previously been over to the family’s home to help with remodeling and asked the oldest son, who was 6, for a tour of the renovations.

Freeman, who at first sat in court expressionless, began to look down as the third father spoke. Visible tears dropped from Freeman’s cheeks down to his dingy white jumpsuit.

The third father choked up as he continued to talk about leaving his children with Freeman. He explained that it was the day Freeman babysat for the family that he sexually assaulted the 6-year-old.

The third father said that his son is now untrusting.

“I can’t go anywhere without him worrying I won’t come back,” the third father said, also mentioning that his son can’t sleep if he isn’t home. “As a dad, it makes me feel as if my son thinks I did not protect him.”

Freeman began to get even more upset in court as the third father continued to speak. Freeman’s tears fell more forcefully and he leaned in to speak with his attorney, J. Carlton Taylor, who asked for a recess.

When the court returned, the third father returned to his place on the stand.

“I’ve forgiven Tripp. I love Tripp. It breaks my heart that he has this sickness that seems incurable. Incarceration doesn’t cure it. I don’t know what cures it,” the third father said.

“What I do know is that I have a little boy. I have a little boy who is scared. I have a little boy who was molested at a time in his life where he could not defend himself and at a time in his life when his daddy was not there to help him. That is what I know,” the third father said.

The third father then addressed Freeman.

“There is good news and the good news is that God loves you,” he said.

The fourth parent to speak at the hearing was mother to a son, who was 8 at the time of his contact with Freeman.

The mother said that she tried to see Freeman with a “mother’s heart” and thought he was going through a rough time after his own mother died.

She said she used to cook meals for children at Bush Memorial Baptist Church and had assumed Freeman was just looking for a free meal.

“The boys didn’t want to be around him,” the mother said. “I’d just say, ‘Be nice. Be nice.’ I raked myself over the coals because I should have listened to the boys.”

Her son was upstairs at a church homecoming event when Freeman pushed him up against the wall and assaulted him.

“That’s our safe place,” the mother said, breaking down into tears. “When anything bad happens, you go to church.”

She said her son’s self-esteem was low and, “Frankly, he’s scared. He’s scared.”

“[Freeman] took that innocence away. I can never give that back to my child, ever,” she said.

But what the mother said she could give her son, what all the parents could give their children, was a finish to this court case. They could tell their children that Freeman was going to jail for his actions.

A Troy Police sergeant followed the parents in the line of people who addressed the court on Tuesday morning.

Sgt. Lee Barnes interviewed Freeman three times during the investigation and also spoke with most of the victims who came forward. In total, 17 victims were identified, Barnes said.

Barnes recalled his first meeting with Freeman.

“He was very calm, not emotional in the sense that there was no remorse or regret,” Barnes said.

Barnes also relayed that the events seemed to be fresh in Freeman’s mind, despite several having happened years earlier. “I can best describe it as he was reliving the moment, Barnes said.

Clinical psychologist David Ghostley was called to speak by the defense. Ghostley said Freeman was competent and that he diagnosed him with pedophilia, a mood disorder and attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder.

Ghostley said Freeman had the capacity to know right from wrong, but in the moment of being “overwhelmed by primitive sexual urges,” right and wrong didn’t come into play. He also said, impulsivity caused by ADHD could make actions more difficult to resist.

Ghostley called Freeman “narcissistic” and “somewhat immature.”

“He had some disappointing love interests during his adolescence,” Ghostley said. “I think his self-esteem had bottomed out.”

Ghostley recommended psychiatric treatment for Freeman. Ghostley said he felt that Freeman could benefit from therapy.

“I think he could achieve average risk, if given treatment,” Ghostley said, clarifying that average risk meant the same risk as any male pulled off the street.

Freeman’s father, Ralph Freeman, was the last witness to address everyone present.

Ralph Freeman, said he had been aware of emotional issues his son had and that Freeman had spent time in a rehabilitation facility in 2006.

“I tried everything I knew to do,” Ralph Freeman said.

While he was on the stand, Ralph Freeman said that he loved his son and “This is hard.”

“He tells me every Wednesday, ‘I wish I could take it all back. I’m so sorry,’ ” Ralph Freeman said.

Ralph Freeman had to collect himself several times as he spoke through streaming tears.

“He told me several times he will never get in trouble again.”

As Ralph Freeman left the stand, he leaned over and hugged his son and Freeman pressed tight into his father. Ralph Freeman put his face down to rest on his son’s head, then rubbed his back and returned to his seat.

Before closing arguments, Freeman had an opportunity to address the court and he asked Judge Clark if he could apologize to the victims’ families.

“I’m sorry. I really am. I’m so sorry from the bottom of my heart,” Freeman said as he turned to look at the people in the room. “Everything you did for me. Thank you.”

Freeman then spoke to a specific father.

“I love you. You were always there for me…Thank you for everything.”

Freeman continued, his words distorted by his crying, “I take full responsibility for my actions. I’m really sorry for all the pain I’ve caused to all the victims and their families. If I could take it back I would.”

Freeman will be sentenced Friday morning at 10:30 a.m. He will remain in the Pike County Jail until then, having served about 20 months to date.