Cleveland Twp. man on trial for sexual abuse
The Cleveland Township man, who was expected to testify on Wednesday, has been held in the Leelanau County Jail without bail since May 29, when he was arraigned on the charges. If convicted, Malm could be ordered to serve up to life in prison, according to Douglas J. Donaldson, chief assistant prosecutor for Leelanau County, who is trying the case.
Donaldson said Malm refused an offer allowing him to plead guilty to one count of criminal sexual conduct, third degree, which has a maximum prison sentence of 15 years.
Malm is being defended by William Burdette, his court-appointed attorney. Burdette declined to comment about the case.
The case is being presided over by 13th Circuit Judge Thomas G. Power.
Abuse came to light in February, when the 15-year-old victim, who had left Malm’s home to go live with her grandparents, refused to go back to Malm’s house, Donaldson said. The victim reported Malm to police, telling them that he was sexually abusing her, Donaldson said.
An abuse and neglect petition was filed on Feb. 6 to have her removed from his custody until the court could determine if charges were warranted, he said. The victim, who has lived with Malm on and off from the time she was 2-years-old, testified against him on Tuesday. Malm got custody of the victim when she was a toddler, after her mother’s parental rights had been terminated due to drug and alcohol problems, Donaldson said. Now in a 12-step recovery program, the victim’s mother also testified against Malm on Tuesday, telling the court that she regretted losing custody of her daughter.
In 2002, when the victim was about 4 or 5 years old, Malm’s ex-girlfriend, Linda Cooper, noticed that the victim was ‘red’ in her private area, Donaldson said. After the victim told Cooper that Malm had touched her, Cooper reported the abuse to authorities, Donaldson said. A police investigation was opened and the Leelanau County prosecutor’s office filed an abuse and neglect petition against Malm in probate court to remove the child from his home and to terminate his rights to her, Donaldson said.
Kerr, who was one of the investigators in that 2002 case, testified Tuesday that when he initially contacted Malm by telephone for an inteview regarding the allegations, Malm was very unemotional. “Which was shocking to me considering the things he was being accused of,” Kerr testified. Later, when Kerr interviewed Malm in his home, “He was very calm, didn’t deny. He never denied it,” Kerr testified.
Kerr testified that Malm told him about an incident in which the victim had asked Malm to touch her. Kerr also testified that Malm told him the girl slept in a heated waterbed with Malm. He told Kerr that because of finances he was not able to heat the upstairs of the home, Kerr testified.
Donaldson said the 2002 abuse and neglect petition was eventually dismissed and the prosecutor’s office agreed not to pursue charges if Malm would agree to give up custody and give full guardianship rights to Cooper. Malm was given supervised visitation rights, though supervision details were never clarified, Donaldson said. Those visits went from minimal to increasing over time to overnight and weekend stays, Donaldson said. Malm was given full custody when the victim was 14 and Cooper moved to Tennessee, Donaldson said.
Cooper testified on Tuesday, saying that she felt as though she had to allow visitation. She did not feel she should be the person to supervise the visits, as she no longer got along with Malm, who had taken her to court several times in an attempt to have her guardianship terminated.
Cooper testified that when the victim would return from visitation she had no physical or emotional signs of abuse.
“When she would come home from a visit with (Malm) ... I would question her about her time there and there were never any negatives, so I continued to let her visit,” Cooper testified. “I have a lot of guilt about what happened. I didn’t think it would happen. I really didn’t.”
Tim Bottrell, a child protective services investigator for the Leelanau and Grand Traverse Department of Human Services, investigated the 2012 case against Malm. He testified that after meeting with Malm briefly for the first time he got a voice message from him. “It simply stated he wants to sign off on his rights,” Bottrell said.
Bottrell also testified that the victim called him and said Malm had visited her at school and told her he loved her. The victim, Bottrell said, wanted to know if there was any way the charges against Malm could be dropped, that she did not want him to go to jail.
Donaldson said he does not know which way the case will go. There is no forensic evidence, he said, making it basically a “he said, she said” case. He said the victim is a well-adjusted girl with a 3.8 grade point average in school.
“The system failed this young lady,” Donaldson said. “She survived in spite of it.”