For three years a young girl lived with a terrible secret.
Early Tuesday, she broke her silence, revealing years of systematic sexual abuse to a Wise County jury. The teenage victim gave compelling testimony to the dozen jurors seated in Judge John Fostel’s 271st District courtroom on the second floor of the courthouse in Decatur.She described how her step-dad at the time, Mark J. Shumski, 45, entered her bedroom again and again and molested her during the night. She said it happened as often as two times a week over a period of three years at the trailer home where the family lived north of Rhome.
The victim, now an eighth grader who has since moved from Wise County, was between the ages of 10 and 13 when the assaults occurred from 2008 until May 2011, when she finally told her mother what had been happening.
“I would wake up in the middle of the night, and he’d be lying next to me, touching me,” she told the jury. “It hurt. … He said if I told anyone we would both end up in trouble.
“I was scared because I didn’t know what would happen. I was ashamed because I didn’t know what other people would think of me. I was scared it would break up our family.
“I didn’t feel safe. The worst part was knowing I had a secret this big, and I couldn’t tell anybody.”
On May 18, 2011, after talking about it with a friend, the victim finally told her mom, Kimberly Gandy, what had happened. That same night, Gandy confronted Shumski.
“‘She loved you like a father,'” Gandy recalled saying to him. “‘You were more of a dad to her than her actual father was. How could you do this to her?’
“He turned white, like he knew he’d been caught. He never denied it. He just kept saying that we needed to talk about it, and that we can work through this.”
She left the house that night and took her children with her. She went to the Wise County Sheriff’s Office. The next day they went to Cook Children’s Hospital in Fort Worth for a sexual assault exam. She filed for divorce not long afterward.
Everyone testified, even the victim and her mom, that outside of the assaults, Shumski was a good husband and father.
“He was my best friend,” Gandy said between tears. “He treated me like a queen. He treated my children like they were his own. He was good to me. He made me feel special. He spent a lot of time with me and my kids. He gave me all the things that were missing from my first marriage.”
The victim also testified that her mother was happier with Shumski than she had ever been. That was another reason she waited so long before revealing the abuse.
Defense attorney David Singleton argued that there was not enough evidence to convict.
“(Shumski) goes to work every day,” Singleton said. “He’s a loving husband and father. He’s never been arrested for anything before this. He’s never had a bad thing said against him until this happened. One person said he did this.”
“Imagine if someone said this about you,” Singleton told the jury. “You have the responsibility in the charge, that you have to believe this happened beyond any reasonable doubt.”
“It’s OK to tell the state they didn’t meet their burden,” defense attorney Paul Belew told the jury. “I don’t have to prove one iota. I think you know the state did not prove beyond reasonable doubt.”
Assistant District Attorney Jay Latham argued otherwise.
“(The victim) hoped every night that he wouldn’t come into her room and touch her again,” he said. “To find the defendant not guilty is to call her a liar.
“The defense couldn’t find one person that could testify that she was not truthful.”
The defense was never able to take away from the victim’s credibility. They also never established any type of motive for the victim to make the story up.
After two days of testimony, the jury deliberated for more than six hours before delivering a guilty verdict Wednesday evening. During the punishment phase of the trial, which took place Thursday, two more girls testified that Shumski had assaulted them in a similar manner.
It took the jury of 10 men and two women a couple more hours on Thursday afternoon to determine the sentence of 60 years without parole. Shumski’s mother gasped when the sentence was read aloud in the courtroom.
During the punishment phase, the defense called upon multiple witnesses to testify to the good character of Shumski. He’d always been a good employee, friend, son and father, according to all the witnesses. Even according to the state’s witnesses, this held up. But Latham said that sex offenders are often good at following the rules and living upstanding lives.
“Did you know that people who do this can be very good at masquerading as good people?” Assistant District Attorney Tim Cole asked Patricia Maylor, a witness for the defense and a longtime family friend of Shumski. “Does Penn State come to mind?”
Shumski faced a sentence of 25 to 99 years or life without parole for the crime. Due to a law enacted by the state legislature in 2007, any time a defendant is convicted of sexual assault against a child younger than 14 years old, and the assault occurs more than once over a span longer than 30 days, the defendant must spend a minimum of 25 years in prison. No parole is allowed in such cases.