Convicted sex offender says prosecution withheld evidence
Christopher Truax was convicted of using the internet to entice a child to have sex. At trial in Rapid City, Truax testified, and during cross examination, the federal prosecutor revealed that Truax had read a book on how to emotionally influence a jury.
Truax is now appealing his conviction, saying the prosecutor improperly withheld the fact that the feds knew about the book.
The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in Saint Paul on Friday, Dec. 16.
Christopher Truax, also known as Christopher Dale Sinchak, was caught in an online law enforcement sting during the 2020 Sturgis Rally. He was found guilty in November 2021 of using the internet to entice a child to have sex and sentenced to serve 14 years in federal prison.
Truax appealed his conviction to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.
At oral arguments, Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Kelderman told the three-judge appellate panel that the federal prosecutor didn’t know until after Truax testified that he had obtained a copy of a Gerry Spence book that teaches readers how to win a case.
Spence is a nationally-known Wyoming trial lawyer and author.
Kelderman said a prosecution team met after court had adjourned for the day and were talking about Truax’s emotional demeanor on the stand. An officer from the Pennington County jail said he knew of a recorded phone conversation in which Truax had asked his aunt to get him a copy of the Spence book, and theorized that it might explain what the prosecution later characterized as Truax’s “theatrics.”
The following morning, the federal prosecutor cross-examined Truax and asked him about the Spence book, and the defense attorney objected.
Kelderman said if Truax hadn’t testified, federal prosecutors would not have discovered the existence of the recorded conversation and the book and so could not have alerted the defense to their existence during the discovery process before the trial started.
“They would have been irrelevant until the time the defendant testified, and that’s when the book became highly relevant,” Kelderman said.
But Truax’s lawyer said the information became relevant when the jail recorded the phone call. Rachael Steenholdt told judges that if Truax had known the prosecution had access to that recording, he might have chosen not to testify.
Steenholdt said it was not practical for the defense to ask for a continuation during trial to process this new information, when Covid-19 safety measures had already complicated trial logistics.
“Any delay could have been lengthy,” she said. “This was a 304-page book to read, the possibility of obtaining additional witnesses.”
And so Steenholdt told judges that a new trial is the proper remedy.
Steenholdt said the prosecution not only used the undiscovered evidence during cross examination but also in closing arguments, when the prosecutor told jurors that Truax had been “coached by Gerry Spence” and that his testimony was not factual but was instead “theatrics” designed to play on the jury’s emotions.
The Eighth Circuit panel will issue an opinion at a later date.