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Investigator testifies about Briard 'confession' -- one spectator banned from courthouse at Robert Briard trial Friday

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The legal jostling didn't let up much -- nor did the acrimony between families -- Friday at the Robert Briard trial.

Briard, 62, of rural Frazee has been charged with felony first- and second-degree criminal sexual conduct for allegedly molesting a close relative on two occasions when she was 8 and 14. The woman is now in her early 30s.

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One young Briard supporter was banned from the courthouse for the remainder of the trial after he exchanged words with the alleged victim's husband in the hallway outside the courtroom Friday.

Becker County District Judge Peter Irvine admonished the spectators to behave themselves or be likewise banned. He has warned previously against spectators making gestures or negative facial expressions against others in the courtroom. Usually 20-30 people attend the trial.

That includes a half-dozen or so grandchildren of Robert and Virginia Briard, one of which was the young man banned on Friday.

As usual, the day was marked by a number of objections and bench consultations involving Becker County Attorney Mike Fritz and defense attorney Earl Gray of St. Paul.

A confession?

Sheriff's Investigator John Sieling also took the stand Friday.

He testified he interviewed Briard in an office in a farm outbuilding after the allegations were raised.

"I asked Robert what happened when she (the victim) was 8. He was slumped over a desk, looking over at the floor -- very soft-spoken.

"He looked down and said there was one time on the living room couch that he touched her inappropriately. There was no penetration and it was on her bottom. I asked if he meant her crotch area-pubic area, and he said 'yeah.'"

Briard told Sieling he did not remember the alleged incident that occurred when she was 14.

Asked why he molested her when she was 8, Briard told the investigator that "he and (the victim) were very close and he was an active guy," Sieling testified. "He said, no, he didn't think that was normal behavior."

After the interview was over, Sieling said he "was a little concerned for him. His face was flushed and I could tell he was having a tough time. I asked him if he was going to be OK. I didn't want him to hurt himself. He said he'd be OK. We said goodbye to each other and I left."

Gray noted that Sieling had not included details like Briard's face being flushed and his head down in his interview report.

And Sieling admitted that he went out to Briard's farm without an appointment, and had tape-recorded the interview without telling Briard. That's legal and standard investigative procedure, he said.

Under cross examination, Sieling testified that Briard strongly denied the incident that allegedly occurred when the victim was 14.

When told she was alleging three visits by him to her bedroom in one night, he told Sieling, 'Now it's three? No!"

And at one point he told Sieling "It's very hard to believe you're coming to me with allegations like this (the alleged victim) is very dear to me."

Secret's out

The victim told her lifelong secret to a gathering of four Briard women in March of 2006 at Battle Lake, where one sister lives.

Virginia Briard swore loud and long (The longest 'God damn it' I ever heard," the victim testified earlier in the week) when the alleged secret was revealed, and Virginia went outside for some air and was found lying on the floor of a shop outside the home.

She drove home, leaving the alleged victim to get a ride home from one of the Briard sisters.

Virginia Briard had still not been located as of Friday afternoon. She is apparently on the run to avoid testifying, and has been charged with felony contempt in Becker County District Court for not obeying a subpoena to appear in court to testify in the trial.

The alleged victim's husband, a 43-year-old small business owner in Detroit Lakes, said he was called home the day his wife told her secret -- and found her home alone, curled up in a reclining chair, face puffy and red from crying. "She was crying so hard, she could barely get a word out between sobs," he testified.

He testified that he and his wife later went to see Robert and Virginia Briard. "We wanted to resolve this problem and take steps to start healing it," he said.

The four agreed to meet that evening with their pastor, and the victim and her husband went home to set up child care arrangements.

When they arrived back at the Briards, Virginia Briard was holding her head, shaking, and couldn't remember anything about the earlier visit or plans to work through the incident with the minister, the husband said.

"She looked and sounded really drunk," he added. "I was concerned. I thought maybe Bob (Briard) had poisoned her."

But Briard obviously was concerned about her and they decided not to take her to the emergency room and instead let him handle it.

They left and went to the house of one of Briard's sons, who said he thought Virginia was "acting," according to the victim's earlier testimony.

"I thought we were being taken, were being made fools of," the husband testified. "We were very upset."

So upset that both the victim and her husband were up all night, and went back to the Briards at 5 a.m. the next day, where they had an angry confrontation with Robert and Virginia.

During one later conversation with Briard, the husband testified that Briard told him: "'Back in Bible days this wasn't totally uncommon -- it's a way of increasing the human population.' I told him, 'Bob, it wasn't right 10,000 years ago, it ain't right today, and it won't be right 10,000 years from today.'"

The defense attorney, Gray, questioned the husband sharply about that, noting he hadn't seen it in police statements until recently and suggesting -- in a sarcastic aside -- that he had no memory problems when it came to quotes.

The husband also addressed several issues raised by the defense when the victim testified earlier: She had admitted, for example, that she believed there was a demon in her house at one time, and talked about intense dreams.

After telling her secret in 2006, the husband said, his wife "felt isolated from the family, she was an emotional mess -- the household was tipped upside down."

At that time, the alleged victim "was having some very bad dreams at night, I think because of the medications she was using," he said.

Once, she woke up and thought a demon was beside her -- she ran to the door and ordered it out, he said. A boy in the household also saw the demon, he said, although the husband never did.

His wife also dreamed about her guardian angel, he said.

He was not allowed to answer a question from Gray about whether he and his wife had ever considered a civil lawsuit against the Briards. The prosecution objected and it was upheld.

The husband also testified that when they were first married, his wife had told him about the abuse involving Briard, but she had downplayed it.

Strong defense

The issue came up, he said, because "Juanita (the eldest Briard sibling) had talked to her about it and asked some questions.

Earlier on Friday, Juanita had provided strong testimony for the defense.

She laughed and said "no" when the defense attorney asked her if her family was a "cult," a reference to earlier testimony by the alleged victim.

She called the charges "ridiculous" at one point, and said she had heard nothing about molestation allegations from the alleged victim until the day of the get-together in March 2006.

She admitted she had visited the alleged victim to ask her to drop the charges.

"She wanted an apology from (Robert Briard) -- for something he didn't do," Juanita said.

A number of her comments were stricken from the record, and she was warned twice by Judge Irvine to stop elaborating on her answers to express her beliefs.

The trial will continue at 9 a.m. Monday at the Becker County Courthouse.

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