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8-year-old girl testifies to terror of sex attack

25-year-old on trial in Pleasant Grove incident

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PROVO — One of a parent's worst nightmares came true for one Pleasant Grove family last April.

In the twilight hours of April 24 an 8-year-old Pleasant Grove girl nodded off on her daybed while reading a book. Sometime near midnight, the girl said she was roused by someone taking off her clothes.

"I thought it was my grandma," the girl said in a small voice as she sat in the witness stand. But when she opened her eyes she found a strange man in her room. "He told me, 'be quiet, be quiet,' " the girl said. When the man exposed himself and tried to have sexual contact with her, she screamed.

Deputy Utah County Attorney Sherry Ragan alleges that man was 25-year-old Brandon Christen.

The intruder had entered the house through an unlocked back door.

Christen is charged in 4th District Court with aggravated sexual abuse of a child, a first-degree felony, and one count of burglary, a second-degree felony. If convicted, he could face up to life in prison.

In the first day of what is expected to be a three-day trial, one by one, members of the girl's Pleasant Grove family took the stand to describe the horror of waking up to the child's screams.

Through sobs and tears, the girl's grandmother testified Wednesday that she was sleeping in a room next to her granddaughter's. "I heard a voice and I raised up and heard, it was a man's voice," the grandmother said. "I thought, 'Who is that? Who is that?' "

But the grandmother said she went back to sleep, which she said she would regret. "I never thought that a stranger was in the house," she said. When she heard a man's voice the second time, she arose to investigate. "I saw a man running down the hallway and I just screamed," she said.

The girl's father told the court he jumped out of bed and ran downstairs. Hearing that the stranger had run into the laundry room and out the back door, he pursued but could find nothing.

The girl's mother testified she found her daughter naked and crying hysterically as she curled up in the corner of her bed.

In her opening statement, Ragan told jurors the state has several witnesses who will testify they saw a man matching Christen's description near the house that night. Later that night, she said, police arrested Christen at his mother's home in Orem.

Authorities have the wrong man, said public defender Mike Esplin in his opening statement. Esplin acknowledged that the attack occurred but said the defense will show that the state lacks sufficient evidence to prove Christen was the attacker.

"There is no dispute that something terrible happened," Esplin said. "This was a crime. This was a serious crime. This was an egregious crime."

Both sides have stipulated not to tell the jury about Christen's past conviction on a lewdness charge involving a child. In 1999, he entered an Orem home and exposed himself and asked a girl to remove her underwear. According to police, he then entered the room of a woman sleeping in the same house and pulled the bed covering away.

The trial was continuing Thursday with the state scheduled to wrap up its case. The defense is expected to call its own witnesses to testify that Christen was elsewhere when the April attack occurred.

E-MAIL: gfattah@desnews.com