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Hannibal Courier - Post - Hannibal, MO
  • Birdno guilty on all five counts

  • Editor's note: Please be aware the contents of this story are graphic. Terminology, visualizations and described events may be offensive to some readers. Discretion is advised.
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  • Editor's note: Please be aware the contents of this story are graphic. Terminology, visualizations and described events may be offensive to some readers. Discretion is advised.
    Jason Birdno didn't make any eye contact with anyone.
    He slightly hung his head and mouthed to himself, "Wow."
    That came after Judge Wes Dalton handed down his sentence.
    Once the closing arguments concluded, the judge didn't need any time to think things over, he didn't even pause.
    He gave a small paragraph of opinion and said the state proved enough and found Birdno guilty of five counts of statutory sodomy.
    Families and friends on both sides of the courtroom wept when the verdict in the bench trial was handed down. Tanjie Hoover, the mother of Birdno's daughter — who is also the victim — wiped away her constant tear drops with many tissues. Birdno's friends and family across the aisle displayed frozen faces of disbelief while others sobbed.
    At times during Thursday's proceedings, it appeared the defense was going full force to create all kinds of reasonable doubt. Birdno's attorney, Gillis Leonard, put four witnesses on the stand to convince Judge Dalton that Birdno was not guilty, and next to two state authorities and the principal of Holy Rosary Catholic School, the key witness for the defense was Birdno himself.
    His story
    Day two of his trial and Birdno made it interesting for everyone in the courtroom by taking the stand to tell his side.
    "You're going to realize why the founding fathers established reasonable doubt," Gillis said in his opening statement.
    Dressed in a lime green button down, khaki pants and a striped tie of earth tones, Birdno took the stand in guided form.
    He sat up straight, he leaned into the microphone to respond, he waited for his attorney to finish questioning. He was a polite witness addressing his attorney as "sir" with his nasal, midwestern twang.
    Like most proceedings that reach this point, Gillis opened with formality questions, but the time eventually came for Birdno to tell his side to everything.
    "There was a lot of physical and verbal abuse in my household," Birdno said.
    His daughter said on the stand Wednesday he told her and her brothers to lie to the Department of Family Services when they came to their family home at 822 Second St. in Monroe City.
    "I did coach them," Birdno said. "I advised them if asked if they got spankings that it was three times with my hands."
    Birdno's daughter testified physical abuse included a belt.
    Birdno went on to say there was a family discussion to get the house clean because it doesn't look good when DFS comes and the house isn't clean.
    Page 2 of 6 - "I told the kids I didn't want them taken away," Birdno said.
    Relationship with daughter
    As it turns out all of the tension with Birdno's daughter began when Birdno said his daughter and her friends talked about who had the worse mother. Birdno said his daughter suggested her step-mother, Sarah Birdno, was the worst and that's when things got heated.
    "My wife's pretty stern," Birdno testified. "We have our problems."
    Birdno kept it simple in his testimony. He told the court he threatened his daughter to get out and move in with her mother, Hoover, if she didn't like living with him in Monroe City. His voice started to tremble and he had to pause briefly to collect his composure when he continued. He said he told his daughter he didn't want her there anymore.
    Birdno's daughter went to live with her mother and it wasn't long after that when he said he contacted DFS himself. He said he took a lot of responsibility for his behavior, referencing physical abuse.
    "I called DFS, asked them to come into our house and asked them to help us be better parents," Birdno said.
    He also testified the intensity of the physical abuse.
    "I didn't care who started it, they all got a spanking," Birdno said. "I took a lot of it out on my wife as well."
    And when it came to the physical abuse toward his daughter, Birdno testified it was "more her than anyone."
    While she was living with her mother, Birdno would visit his daughter. Throughout this time there was counseling for Birdno and his wife, together and individually. He would also suggest counseling to his daughter and at one point begged to see her for a weekend when he had been absent from her for some time. He said things were going well since being assisted by DFS to be better parents, but his temper did get the best of him.
    "I had made threats to my daughter's family and to my in-laws about visits," Birdno said. "My wife for some time has not wanted to have anything to do with her family. I always fought the battles for her. I got mad because we put forth such an effort to put our family back together."
    Breaking his in-laws legs was the extent of the threats, Birdno testified. But that's part of what sparked a protection order from Hoover against Birdno.
    Tension between he and his daughter got worse after a hidden camera incident attempting to catch her lying.
    Birdno said he told his daughter not to text or contact him or her brothers anymore or ask for money. In response, Birdno said his daughter texted him saying he didn't deserve to be a parent.
    Page 3 of 6 - As a union iron worker, Birdno had several jobs out of the area of his home. He worked on the Kansas City Wizards soccer stadium, a project in Iowa, a bridge project in Warsaw, Mo., which included the Lake of the Ozarks, and a job in Kentucky.
    During his time in the south, that's when Birdno got a call from law enforcement and was summoned back to Monroe County. He was told accusations were made against him and not to get pulled over as he made his way back. However, Birdno said he was speeding through Troy, Mo. and did get pulled over. That's when he learned there was a warrant out for his arrest for five counts of statutory sodomy.
    Explanations
    Birdno fully denied doing anything sexual to his daughter at any time. He gave firm, responses of "no" to each sexual question his attorney asked.
    As for that green fishing bucket, the one Birdno's daughter said she sat on while giving her father oral sex, Birdno said that's where he hides his pornography magazines. And the coffee cup, Birdno's daughter said he "spermed" in after her acts on him? That, Birdno said, was used to weigh the magazine pages down. He said it's possible DNA fluids may have made their way into the cup.
    Birdno's short fuse lit and popped at this moment on the stand. He didn't like an objection by Prosecutor Talley Kendrick so he looked over her way.
    "I come here to tell the truth," Birdno said to Kendrick.
    Leonard had to tell Birdno to be quiet.
    And this wasn't his first outburst. Day one of the trial Birdno reacted to some testimonies with loud whispers of disagreement.
    Birdno didn't deny saying oral sex (the vernacular initials were used in court) would not get his daughter pregnant, but mentioned he shouldn't have spoke in that manner around his daughter. He also said he'd lay in bed with his daughter, clarifying she's had bad dreams since the age of 4.
    "She's always had some really weird dreams," Birdno said.
    He testified he'd just lay there with her till she'd fall back asleep.
    Then came that long list of questions from Leonard. While Birdno denied everything being asked, his temper struck again.
    This time he didn't like Kendrick's facial expressions.
    "Why do you laugh," he snapped. "This is not funny."
    Birdno was getting visibly angry. His face was turning red and he began wiping away sweat.
    He testified he never touched his daughter in private areas, never made her perform sexual acts and never forced her to watch pornographic movies.
    Cross examination
    Sarcasm was mostly Birdno's attitude when the state got their turn to question him on the stand.
    Page 4 of 6 - "I'm not 12," he said to Kendrick.
    He said he kept pornography of all media in the house and garage, but if his wife discovered it she'd throw it out.
    Birdno didn't want anything to do with the coffee mug, which was biggest piece of evidence. When Kendrick went to take it out of the evidence packaging to have Birdno confirm it, he refused.
    "It's quite embarrassing," he said. "I'm good. I believe you."
    Phone calls with an angry Birdno and his wife were played again and Kendrick asked if he told his wife to tell his daughter's brothers that "they can blame all of this on their (expletive) sister."
    "If you say I did, I believe you," Birdno said.
    Later on in questioning, Birdno again, didn't care for Kendrick's courtroom approach.
    "This is immature your honor," Birdno said to Judge Dalton.
    Other witnesses
    Leonard's attempt to show what kind of student Birdno's daughter was in school failed after Birdno left the stand.
    Sister Sue Walker, principal of Holy Rosary Catholic School in Monroe City, where Birdno's daughter attended when she lived with him, testified the girl was a good student. The principal of 29 years said Birdno's daughter had no disciplinary action in her school records and made acceptable grades and had acceptable attendance.
    Leonard was prepared to show how Birdno's daughter was doing at the New Franklin School she attends while living with her mother, but when Laura Dobson, a special service para-professional for the New Franklin Schools, took the stand and said she didn't know Birdno's daughter and only came to court with student records, she was excused.
    Nikki Harvel with the Missouri State Highway Patrol, who gave the full lab test on the coffee mug, testified no semen was detected. However, she did say, dirt was found inside and outside the cup when she received it for testing.
    "It could cause problems," Harvel said when asked if the dirt could cause semen not to be detected.
    Stacy Minze with the State Technical Assistance Team was the final witness for the defense.
    She testified no pornography involving a football player and cheerleader was found at the Birdno house. The pornographic scene was described by Birdno's daughter on the stand.
    Minze also said she was involved with the initial test of semen in the coffee mug when the search warrant on the home was conducted. That test did confirm semen and she testified there are often times when the full test at the state crime lab does not come back with a detection of fluids.
    And with that, the defense rested.
    Closing time
    The state's biggest emphasis in both of their closing statements was clarity.
    Page 5 of 6 - Monty Platz, the Missouri Attorney General's Office, who assisted Kendrick in the case, conducted both closing segments.
    "A very brave girl got up here and testified. That girl was able to get up and brave the abuse one more time," Platz said. "Everything that has happened in this case is text book. Mr. Birdno could have written this text book. We know that not every child is going to come forth, but this one did."
    Platz used the term grooming, initiated by forensic interviewer Gerri Sites on the stand, which means Birdno used little sexual acts like tickling and nude moments in the home to prey on his daughter.
    "He preys on her again, and again, and again," Platz said.
    Platz referred to Birdno as a "cage fighter" and that his daughter has been "bent and not broken."
    Then the time came for big Gillis Leonard to make his remark.
    His courtroom approach may be unorganized at times, maybe even unorthodox to some, but his command, gumption and emphasis of reasonable doubt is one many in the courtroom were fearing. The entire trial, Leonard raised many instances that could be considered not just reasonable doubt, but also circumstantial.
    Leonard's intent was undoubtedly clear by courtroom observers.
    "She did get up here and say exactly what she needed to say, nothing more," Leonard said of Birdno's daughter. "She couldn't recall the last time she was abused."
    Leonard reminded the judge several times that Birdno's daughter's answers to him were either, "I don't know," or "I don't recall."
    "This was a father asking for forgiveness from a daughter he had wronged," Leonard said referencing physical and verbal abuse. "Not every man who has anger issues perps on his daughter," Leonard said. "Not every man who tickles or lays in bed with his daughter is a perp."
    The defense attorney also attempted reasonable doubt by telling the judge that Birdno was working in other regions, away from Monroe City, when accusations were made. Leonard noted Birdno was coming home every other weekend when he built the stadium in Kansas City and sporadically when in Kentucky.
    "They did a few things and just stopped. And now this man has to defend himself," Leonard said. "There was no secrecy. A man screwed up."
    Both sides were done and Judge Dalton began to give his thoughts.
    "These are very emotional cases," he said.
    Within the next few sentences, Birdno was officially a guilty man.
    Sentencing
    Sentencing will take place at 2 p.m. May 6 at the Audrain County Courthouse in Mexico, Mo.
    At that time victims have the opportunity to address Birdno if they choose too. Birndo may also get the opportunity to address the court before he is sentenced.
    Page 6 of 6 - "The prosecutors did their job and they did it well," Hoover said afterwards.
    "We just feel like the victim got justice and that's the goal in all of this," Kendrick added.
    It is not clear if Birdno will stay in the Audrian County Jail or be transferred back to the Monroe County Jail before his sentencing.
    "I'm an advocate for my client. All respect to the judge, he heard the evidence, he made his decision. Where we are now is, we consider all our post-conviction options. I've been granted additional time to review and file any appropriate motions that I think need to be filed. There are appellate courts for a reason," Leonard said. "There are only two things nice that happen in a courtroom. A wedding and an adoption. People, everyday, leave courtrooms disappointed, angry, frustrated, upset. And on the other side of the aisle they leave happy; whatever, whenever. The point is, the only certainty in a court of law, is the uncertainty."
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