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Child abuse trial goes to jury Wednesday

By Bob Buckel | Published Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A Wise County jury began deliberations Wednesday in a felony child abuse case that could send a Rhome man to prison for up to 10 years.

Testimony started and ended Tuesday in the trial of Shaun Ray Mullinax, 33. Mullinax is charged with injury to a child with intent to cause bodily injury – a third-degree felony – in connection with an incident that occurred Nov. 7, 2012.

That’s when he allegedly cornered his then-12-year-old son in the kitchen of their home in the Shale Creek subdivision, hitting him on the arm and head with a closed fist after the boy reportedly forgot to do the dishes.

The youngster, who testified Tuesday but is not being named by the Messenger because he is still a minor, went to his counselor at Chisholm Trail Middle School the next day and said he was afraid to go home that evening. The counselor called Child Protective Services and the boy called his mother, who lives in Floresville, south of San Antonio.

She drove up that day, picked him up at a friend’s house and took him to the Wise County Sheriff’s Office, where they met with an officer and filed a report.

Mullinax was arrested a few days later, and indicted in January, 2013.

After jury selection Tuesday morning in 271st Judicial District Court, assistant district attorney Jay Lapham and defense attorney Jerry Cobb began calling witnesses at 1:30 p.m. Testimony concluded at about 4:30, and after being charged by District Judge John Fostel not to discuss the case, the jurors were dismissed for the day.

They returned Wednesday morning and, after closing arguments and the judge’s charge, began working to arrive at a verdict.

Witnesses’ accounts differ

Lapham called Stephen Bates, the counselor at Chisholm Trail Middle School, to testify on what he observed when the youngster came to his office the morning of Nov. 8.

“He was visibly upset, to the point of tears,” Bates said. “He was very scared, very nervous.”

Bates said he observed bruises on the boy’s left arm and a bump on his head. It was enough, he said, to compel him to call CPS, and to allow the boy to call his mother.

“He was very nervous about going home,” Bates said. “He did not want to go home.”

Bates also testified that Shaun Mullinax called his office a few days later and thanked him for “being there” for his son.

“He thanked me for taking the action I had taken, to stop it from happening.”

When Mullinax testified later, he said that is not what he told the counselor.

“I did thank Mr. Bates for being there for [him],” he said. “I don’t believe I said, ‘I’m glad he went to you so this would stop.’”

The boy, who just finished the eighth grade in Floresville, where he lives with his mom, her husband and three siblings, testified that on the day of the alleged assault, he had not done the chores his father had asked him to do.

He said his dad was very angry and hit him multiple times.

He also said this was not the only time his father hit him – and said one time his father placed his hands around his neck and threatened to strangle him for lying.

In cross-examination, Cobb brought out that the boy had not told anyone about the alleged abuse until after the Nov. 7, 2012, incident – including his mother, during a two-month stay at her house the previous summer, and his grandfather, with whom he often went fishing and had a close relationship.

In his testimony, Mullinax denied ever hitting his son with a closed fist, but said he had disciplined him with a belt three or four times over the course of a year.

“He needed to be taught that lying is not acceptable,” Mullinax said.

On the evening of Nov. 7, 2012, he said he had told his son to do his homework and some chores when he picked him up from football practice. If he did, he said, the boy could go over to a friend’s house and play video games.

Mullinax said he went to Denton for dinner and when he got home, not only were the chores not done, but when he checked his son’s backpack he found homework had not been done, either. He said his son had called him, lied about that and gone to the friend’s house.

When the boy returned home, Mullinax said he confronted him about the work not being done, “but mostly about why he lied to me.”

“He said he just wanted to go play the video game,” Mullinax said. After that, he said he took a break before attempting to spank his son, with an open hand, on the backside.

“I decided he needed physical discipline,” Mullinax said. “I decided to pop his butt a couple of times, to get his head in the right spot.”

By testifying, Mullinax allowed Lapham an opening to bring out in cross-examination his criminal history. That includes seven months in prison in 2004-05 after he violated the terms of his probation on an arson conviction.

The arson, he admitted, was for setting his truck on fire in Smith County so he would not have to make payments.

The probation violation involved the use of marijuana, he said.

The boy’s mother, Sarah Anne Novak, also testified, as did Wise County Sheriff’s Officer Pat Golden and Mullinax’s dad, Ronald G. Mullinax, of Athens.

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