PRATTVILLE — Trials began Tuesday in a high-profile child molestation case in Prattville involving seven victims under the age of two, three co-defendants and 44 charges.
The abuse allegedly happened over an extended period of time at Journey Church’s daycare center. The defendants, all women, were arrested in May and face a total of 44 charges, according to District Attorney CJ Robinson and court records. The non-denominational church is located on the 400 block of Sheila Boulevard.
The accused are:
- Susan Baker of Prattville with 13 counts of child abuse and six counts of non-reporting of child abuse
- Leah Livingston of Deatsville has been charged with eight counts of child molestation and five counts of failure to report child molestation
- Alice Sorrells of Deatsville was charged with seven counts of child molestation and five counts of failure to report child molestation
Under Alabama law, childminders are among the “mandatory reporters,” meaning they must report evidence or suspicions of child abuse to law enforcement.
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Livingston and Sorrells will be tried together and their trials began on Tuesday. The same jury decides on both. Baker filed a motion last week withdrawing her request for a jury trial and instead requesting a trial in which the judge will render the verdict.
Her trial date has not been set.
The women were used as “teachers” in the toddler room, Assistant District Attorney Sarah Speaks told the jury in her opening statement.
“This is a case of trust and betrayal,” she told the panel. “The victims’ parents trusted the teachers at Journey Daycare to love, care for and protect them while they (parents) were away. Leah Livingston and Alice Sorrels betrayed that trust.”
Speaks went on to name all seven victims. That Montgomery Advertiser does not name the victims due to their age and the nature of the charges. The children were between 10 and 15 months old at the time of the alleged abuse.
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Prosecutors are relying on CCTV footage from the daycare classrooms to show incidents of alleged abuse.
“You’re going to hear those babies’ cries,” Speaks said.
Given the opening statements to the jury, the defense strategy appears to be that all acts captured on tape do not meet the legal definition of child abuse.
Richard Lively is representing Livingston. In his opening speech, he railed against “liberal ideology” and its threat to “…conservative southern culture.” The impact of liberal ideology is to change and shift definitions of words from their commonly accepted meanings, he told the panel.
He showed the panel a poster that defined the elements of the Child Abuse Act.
“I trust what you will see in these tapes is that nothing reaches the level of torture, intentional abuse, cruel beating or other mistreatment of a child that is required by law,” Lively said. “What the evidence will show is that neither parent has made a complaint against the daycare center in relation to their child’s treatment. There are no medical records showing bruises, scratches or broken bones.”
Tom Azar, the Sorrells’ attorney, added little in his opening statements other than to remind that both women are innocent until all jurors have reached their decision. He also begged the jury to hold off on making judgments until all the evidence was presented.
The alleged abuse came to light in March when a newly hired caregiver was assigned to the toddlers’ room. Speaks said in its opening that during the nap, the new teacher noticed “disturbing behavior” related to the children’s treatment and “immediately” went to the daycare director to report her concerns.
That’s how the investigation began.
Contact Montgomery Advertiser reporter Marty Roney at [email protected]