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Judge excludes expert witness in sexual relations criminal case

Dr. Tomas Co. (Source: Shawnee Co. Dept. of Corrections)
Dr. Tomas Co. (Source: Shawnee Co. Dept. of Corrections)(WIBW)
Published: Jan. 22, 2020 at 12:21 PM CST
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A Shawnee County District Court judge has ruled to exclude the testimony of an expert witness during the upcoming jury trial of a prison dental instructor charged with unlawful sexual conduct with female inmates.

The expert witness testimony would have been during the trial of Tomas Co, 73, who is charged with six counts of unlawful sexual relations with a department of corrections inmate over 16 years old, according to District Court records.

Co is charged with molesting female inmates at the Topeka Correctional Facility between 2014 and 2018 while teaching them how to make dentures, an Associated Press story said.

The four-day jury trial of Co is to start on Monday before Shawnee County District Court Judge Cheryl Rios.

During a motion hearing on January 16, Deputy District Attorney Roger Luedke urged the judge to block testimony by an expert on interrogations and false confessions during Co's trial.

Chris Joseph, Co's defense attorney, told Rios she should deny the prosecution motion to exclude the testimony of professor Alan Hirsch.

Joseph said Hirsch is a nationally recognized expert on police interviews and interrogations, including the "Reid Technique," a police interrogation method.

Joseph said that technique could affect the reliability of statements made by someone subjected to questioning under the Reid Technique.

In Kansas law, judges "must assess on a case-by-case basis whether expert testimony will be helpful to the jury," Rios wrote in her ruling.

"Expert opinion testimony is admissible if it will be of special help to the jury on technical subjects (with) which the jury is not familiar or if such testimony (will) assist the jury in arriving at a reasonable factual conclusion from the evidence," the judge quoted an opinion as saying.

The Co case isn't factually complex, the judge wrote.

"It is well within the jury's ability to determine whether the witnesses in this case made false accusations against the defendant and whether techniques used to question these witnesses resulted in false accusations," Rios wrote.

Co's defense attorney will have the opportunity to establish the reliability of the testimony of the accusing witnesses through "vigorous cross-examination as well as argument," the judge wrote.

The defense also can challenge the techniques used by those conducting the initial questioning that led to the accusations, the judge said.

To allow the expert opinion testimony "would invade on the field of common knowledge and experience of the jury," the judge wrote. Cross examination, persuasive argument and cautionary instructions by the defense will provide safeguards against unreliable witness testimony, the judge said.