Teen testifies she was fondled by Disney worker dressed as Tigger
MIKE SCHNEIDER - Associated Press
ORLANDO, Fla. - A 13-year-old girl testified Monday that a Walt Disney World character worker dressed as Tigger fondled her breast while she posed for a photo with him and her mother at the Magic Kingdom.
"I didn't know what to do. I didn't know what to say," the girl said during the first day of the Disney worker's three-day trial on battery and lewd and lascivious molestation charges.
Earlier Monday, the worker, Michael Chartrand, 36, rejected a plea deal that would have spared him prison time if convicted.
Prosecutor William Jay offered Chartrand one year of probation and 50 hours of community service if he accepted the plea agreement for misdemeanor battery. Under the terms, Chartrand also would have been banned from theme parks and required to undergo a psycho-sexual evaluation.
"The fact is this by accepting it, my client says he did it. He didn't do it," said Jeffrey Kaufman, Chartrand's attorney. "We're going to fight it."
Chartrand now could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted.
Chartrand, suspended without pay, was accused of touching the girl's breast while he posed for a picture with her and her mother last February at Mickey's Toon Town in the Magic Kingdom. After his arrest in April, other women filed complaints alleging similar conduct.
During opening statements, Jay described Chartrand as "as 36-year-old man who abused his Walt Disney World job to steal the innocence of a child." The prosecutor also disputed claims that Chartrand didn't know where he was placing his hands because of the bulkiness of the costume's paws.
"This defendant knew where his paws were," Jay said.
The Tigger costume will be shown to jurors on Tuesday, and they will be allowed to try it on in the jury room during deliberations.
Kaufman tried to raise doubts about the girl's credibility during opening statements and while questioning her on the witness stand. He told jurors that the girl switched stories about the number of times she was groped and the order in which photos were taken of her with Tigger.
The defense attorney also suggested that the girl and her mother were pursuing the criminal case to help in any civil case they filed against Disney.
Kaufman, who also works part-time as a costumed character at Disney, said he expected jurors to handle the Tigger costume so they can see how difficult it would be to grope somebody inside the bulky outfit.
Before the trial started, a Disney lawyer had suggested that the orange Tigger costume be dyed black or white and its ears removed if it is introduced as evidence at the trial. But prosecutor said Monday that the jury would see the Tigger costume Tuesday as it's seen at the park.
Circuit Judge Bob Wattles agreed to let the jury see 20 pictures that Chartrand turned over to detectives of himself, dressed as Tigger, posing with Disney World visitors. Kaufman objected to the use of the images, saying "a lot of those pictures aren't of my client."
But Jay said the images were important to deny likely defense arguments that the touching was accidental.
"We're supposed to believe he doesn't know where his hands are and has no body control," Jay said before a jury was selected.
From the Miami Herald