Defense claims false memories behind child sexual assault charges in McHenry County

Defense attorney calls memory recovery ‘junk science’

Inset of Robert J. Gould in front of Northwest Herald file of the McHenry County courthouse.

The upcoming trial of a Canadian man accused of repeatedly sexually abusing two girls throughout their childhood beginning in 2001 can include limited testimony on false memory.

“This is a very serious case that involves very complicated issues,” said Dominic Buttitta, defense attorney for Robert J. Gould, 56, who was on McHenry County’s most wanted list when arrested in 2017.

At the time of his arrest, Gould was living in Higginsville, Nova Scotia, where he was detained by Canadian authorities on Sept. 1, 2017.

“Regardless of the outcome after trial, I believe this case will ultimately have an impact on both defending and prosecuting sex crimes in Illinois,” Buttitta told the Northwest Herald.

Gould was taken to McHenry County Jail following his 2017 arrest and held on $500,000 bond. He has since posted bond and has been wearing an ankle monitor while staying at the home of family in McHenry County, his lawyer said.

Gould is charged with three counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse of a child under the age of 13, a Class 2 felony; eight counts of criminal sexual assault, a Class 1 felony; and 10 counts of predatory criminal sexual assault of a child, a Class X felony, according to the criminal indictment filed in McHenry County courthouse.

Class X felonies typically carry sentences of six to 30 years and are not probational. If convicted on all charges, Gould faces life in prison.

Last week, McHenry County Judge Michael Coppedge granted a motion filed by prosecutors seeking to bar specific “improper opinion testimony” by a therapeutic memory expert who is to testify as a defense witness.

Buttitta said Christopher Barden was set to testify to his 70-page “expert report” about the alleged victims’ repressed or recovered memories and therapy-enhanced memory, which Buttitta said he thinks resulted in false accusations against Gould.

In court Buttitta referred to the allegations based on memory recovery as “junk science.”

Assistant State’s Attorney Sharyl Eisenstein said the girls underwent scientifically, reliable cognitive behavior therapy.

Barden said the memories of the two alleged victims – that Gould sexually abuse and assaulted them as young children prompted during therapy sessions in Canada – are false.

Had Barden been allowed to testify to his “expert” report, he would have spoken specifically to recorded statements in which the alleged victims make statements about their recovered memories. Those statements include that “my therapist and I believe” or “they think” they were sexually assaulted and abused, that they had “flashbacks” of abuse, and that their memories are “pieced together,” Buttitta said in a pre-trial hearing last week.

Coppedge ruled that Barden can testify only regarding the general science of repressed or recovered memory, the methods by which memory can be created, and the conditions that may affect, impact and alter memory.

Coppedge said any specific testimony about the alleged victims made by Barden will cause “unnecessary confusion for the jury.”

Barden also is not allowed to make any claims that “there were deficiencies by police or in the investigation. Barden will not be allowed to testify about this investigation,” Coppedge said.

Barden cannot opine on the veracity of any other witnesses in this case and cannot offer his opinion that the alleged victims received repressed memory therapy, unless the state introduces evidence relating to that first, Coppedge said.

Buttitta said Barden has more than 30 years of experience and has testified as an expert at more than 30 cases about the science of repressed and false memory.

The state’s case will include testimony by a psychotherapist, but this testimony also will be limited to generalities about psychotherapy, Coppedge ruled.

The defense also made a motion barring any testimony from the alleged victims that the defense thinks is the result of “enhanced memory therapy.” Coppedge reserved ruling on this motion until trial, saying it will depend the state’s expert testimony.

The charges against Gould allege he committed the crimes in Island Lake and in an unincorporated area near Woodstock, the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office said at the time of his arrest.

The case was launched when Canadian authorities contacted the sheriff’s office with information about an alleged criminal act taking place in Illinois. Sheriff’s investigators worked with the Halifax Regional Police in Nova Scotia and conducted a criminal investigation.

On Sept. 19, 2017, Gould was taken into custody at Logan International Airport in Boston by the U.S. Marshals Service and Massachusetts State Police, then transported to McHenry County Jail, according to a release from the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office at the time.