Editors's note: The details of this story are graphic. This coverage of the Jason Birdno trial which involves five charges of statutory sodomy, may include terminology, references and visualizations that may be uncomfortable to some readers. Reader discretion is advised.
For his long awaited day in court, Jason Birdno was dressed in a light blue button-down with khaki pants and a stripped tie.
He didn't say much. Just sat at the defense table and looked around the courtroom while everyone else got ready for the day.
This was day one of his bench trial in front Audrain County Circuit Court Judge Wes Dalton. Unlike a jury trial, time was spared from the voir dire process and attorneys were able to start immediately. And Monroe County Prosecutor Talley Kendrick didn't waste any time.
The case was moved from Monroe County to Audrain County on a change of venue request and the Mexico, Mo. courtroom had a fair amount of observers.
Victim on the stand
The question looming between the time Birdno was charged and the start of his trial was, who exactly is his victim?
Five counts of statutory sodomy against the 37-year-old Monroe City man indicated that the charges dated back to 2006 with a female under the age of 14, but it was unknown how Birdno knew the young woman at the source of these accusations.
Kendrick, though, revealed the information in her opening statement, telling Dalton the victim is indeed none other than Birdno's 14-year-old daughter. Who would've been 7 in 2006.
Because she is a minor and is the alleged victim in this case, the Courier-Post is refraining from revealing her identity.
She was the first to take the stand Wednesday morning, and was one of eight who would be sworn in to take questions from the state and Birdno's defense attorney Gillis Leonard.
Birdno glared at his daughter on the stand with an angry expression on his face while she addressed the court. She said life with her father included physical and sexual abuse. There were times she'd be physically abused with a belt and that her brothers were not excused from the same treatment. She, on the other hand, testified there were several instances where her abuse reached a sexual level, and there were several times she had to perform sexual acts on her father.
During her testimony, Birdno's daughter was very composed and mature. She answered in full sentences, spoke properly and asked for questions to be repeated if need be. Her emotions got to her, however, when she had to talk about the green fishing bucket and what happened in the detached garage on the family's property.
"My dad wanted me to perform oral sex for him," Birdno's daughter told the court. "I was sitting on a green bucket."
Page 2 of 5 - The bucket was the first piece of evidence entered by the state and would be talked about with other witnesses who took the stand as the day progressed.
She then testified her father "spermed in a coffee cup."
There were other incidents too, she said.
Several times at night in her bedroom, the same bedroom she shared with one of her brothers, and many other incidences she couldn't recall, all mostly happened at her father's house, 822 Second St., in Monroe City.
Department of Family Services (DFS) would visit and Birdno's daughter said she and her brothers were instructed by her father and her step-mother, Sarah Birdno, Jason's wife, to tell lies, deny any child abuse accusations — but if it came to it only mention three spankings — and tell the DFS investigators that Jason and Sarah Birdno were good parents. Yet, Birdno's daughter said Sarah Birdno also contributed to the physical abuse in the house.
More information came to light when Birdno's daughter testified an incident was interrupted by her aunt and that her father walked around the house nude; and he had her watch pornographic movies, one in particular involving a football player and cheerleader.
Incidences occurred, she said, before and after her 12th birthday.
Birdno's angry looks continued when defense got to cross examine.
Defense attorney, Leonard, is a hard man to miss with his large appearance and commanding voice, but it was these characteristics and more that gave him the courtroom's attention.
For more than an hour Leonard questioned Birdno's daughter about the layout of her father's house where all of the incidents allegedly took place. Leonard had her point out different rooms, describe aspects and areas all for the purpose of what he said was a "virtual tour."
Birdno's daughter grew nervous, leaning forward, lowering her head and biting her nails at times when Leonard's questions turned to the number of counselors she had seen and a time line.
Leonard asked Birdno's daughter if she ever told a DFS investigator she doesn't get enough attention and dramatizes things, but she didn't recall saying that. She also wasn't sure when she started going back to school after she revealed to her mother, Tanjie Hoover, about the incidences between her and her father. "I don't recall," was a repetitive answer from Birdno's daughter to Leonard after most questions.
She said there were several visits from DFS and her father choked her, told her to lie to them.
At several moments, Birdno's daughter didn't want to say anything. She said she was embarrassed and scared.
"I had those points," she told Kendrick after being asked if she had ever come to a point of not saying anything. "I was afraid people wouldn't believe me and I'd be stuck with it."
Page 3 of 5 - Birdno's daughter said she's had panic attacks and nightmares since her claimed incidences with her father, the latest panic attack coming last weekend with her grandmother. She admitted to Leonard that a brain injury as a child, caused her to have nightmares as well.
Confession and DNA proof?
Hoover followed her daughter on the witness stand and told the court about her relationship with Birdno.
They were never married, lived together for a while, but nonetheless had a daughter. She explained how she's been told and observed how her daughter is mature for her age — the teen's testimony verifies that — but Hoover was quick to say her teenager wasn't mature in all ways of life; indicating she has a typical adolescent side to her.
Hoover said she never really got along with Birdno, in short, they just shared their daughter.
In time, Hoover said Birdno started making threats, and to coincide with it all Hoover's daughter came to her mother and revealed what she said was going on between herself and her father — the many sexual acts. Hoover acted immediately taking her daughter to a counselor and then the police.
Hoover said her daughter became very emotional and curled up into a ball in front of the entertainment center of the living room when she told her mother all that she said was going on.
A protection order was filed against Birdno by Hoover, but interestingly enough Hoover left all of the recently revealed information about the sexual incidences between Birdno and their daughter out of her testimony to the judge at the protection order hearing.
Hoover said she was told by law enforcement not to mention anything because they were conducting their own investigation, and Hoover was scared, too. She said she was worried that Birdno would "make good" on the threats he made which initiated the protection order in the first place.
By this point on Wednesday, things weren't looking very good for Birdno.
Witness testimony from his daughter and daughter's mother was strong. But when Gerri Sites, a forensic interviewer, one who interviewed Birdno's daughter, took the stand, defense attorney Leonard started to take a shot at creating reasonable doubt in an attempt to make the evidence and information sound circumstantial.
Sites testified the element of secrecy in sexual abuse includes panic attacks amongst other things, which would go along with what Birdno's daughter said she had been experiencing, but on cross examination, Leonard asked Sites about panic attacks. Can they come at any time? Can they come at different levels of intensity? Can they come on for any reason?
Sites said yes, but she also added given Birdno's daughter's forensic interview, everything appears to match sex abuse.
Page 4 of 5 - But perhaps the most interesting testimony of the day came from Derrick Balmer. He's with the Missouri Attorney General's office now, but in the spring in 2012 when the investigation against Birdno started taking place, he was an officer with the State Technical Assistance Team.
A presumptive light test on the coffee mug Birdno's daughter said her father "spermed" in came back with the result that there was indeed semen inside.
Yet a note passed along from Leonard to a Courier-Post journalist during proceedings read, "Full lab test failed to detect any semen!"
A hint at the defense's plans later on? It's possible.
Dalton instilled a gag order not allowing notes to be passed to media during trial proceedings after state attorneys noticed a reporting of the note via Twitter.
Just before his time on the stand was done, Balmer did testify that Birdno said he released into the coffee mug and if his daughter performed oral sex properly, she wouldn't get pregnant.
Phone calls and step-aunts
A conversation between Birdno and his wife, Sarah, may have gone against him.
Joe Colston, Jr., a Monroe County Sheriff's deputy, was called to the stand to identify the voices of Jason and Sarah Birdno on phone call recordings from the Monroe County Jail, located inside the Monroe County Courthouse.
"It is what it is. There's nothing we can do about it," Birdno says on the recording.
"Do you know anything," Sarah Birdno asks him.
"I don't know anything," Birdno says in response.
Colston identified the Birdnos in the recording, and did it again when another was played.
"Let's just wait and see what they all have to say first," Birdno says.
Birdno makes references to 30 years and then his wife asks him another question.
"You're okay with being in there 10 to 15 years?" Sarah Birdno asks.
"I don't have a choice," Birdno answers.
If there was any shock in the courtroom — other than the details of the accusations against Birdno — it was when Brittany Greeves and Kyla Dowell took the stand. They are the sisters of Sarah Birdno; Birdno's daughter's step-aunts.
Greeves said she and the entire family have had a "falling out" with Jason and Sarah Birdno. Over a period of five years Greeves said she had "walk-in privileges" at her sister's house in Monroe City. She said Birdno was hardly ever there when she came over, but one time within that five-year time period she said she encountered Birdno in the nude. Greeves said Birdno was coming from the living room where the kids were. She said he covered himself with his hands.
There was also another time, Greeves said, Birdno took his daughter into the bathroom and spanked her. Greeves said the girl could be heard crying on the other side of the wall.
Page 5 of 5 - Just about everything heard from the witnesses related to sexual and physical abuse from Birdno, but the strangest information came on the final witness of the day, Dowell.
Dowell said there was a day when Birdno's daughter and her brothers got baby turkeys. It's believed Birdno's daughter accidentally hurt her little bird. And that's when Dowell went into the kitchen and saw blood all over the floor and in the sink.
In one of the rooms of the house was Birdno and his daughter. Dowell said he was making his daughter pet a headless turkey while she sat there covered in blood. Birdno, angry, told Dowell to get out, she testified. The girl was eventually rescued from the room and when family members got her in the bathroom and removed her clothing, they found the girl covered in hives. Dowell said she was scared and shaking from what she had just experienced.
The state has rested and it is now time for Leonard to present his case.
The defense has a long list of witnesses to present in court and it's not known how long proceedings will last. Because of the bench trial, Dalton can stop the proceedings when and if he feels he's heard enough evidence.
Court resumes at 8 a.m.
Follow trial updates on Twitter from the courtroom. Follow @DominicGenetti #Birdnocase