Alleged victim testifies in trial of man accused of sex with minor

DOVER — A 15-year-old girl testified Wednesday she was groped and kissed, sent and received sexually tinged photos, and received what she described as uncomfortable messages from a former karate academy member on trial in Kent County Superior Court.

Harold E. Philhower, 34, is charged with second-degree rape, two counts of fourth-degree rape, three counts of child pornography and two counts of second-degree unlawful sexual contact involving alleged encounters at the Kaizen Karate Academy in Dover in 2014.

Calling the defendant “Mr. Philhower” throughout her approximately 45-minute court appearance, the girl said the alleged relationship began as a close friendship. It then evolved into what she described as sexually suggestive communications through Facebook and texting. It eventually progressed into physical contact in the karate academy’s parking lot after practices.

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Harold Philower

When first asked by her father about a possible inappropriate relationship, the girl testified she lied because she did not want to disappoint him. She was twice interviewed by Dover Police Department Detective Kevin Streadwick and offered more alleged details in the latter meeting after Mr. Philhower already had been arrested.

In the first interview, the girl said she did not tell the truth because she was “scared” and knew what had happened was wrong. She initially told police nothing was amiss, according to testimony, and proved to be tough to elicit information from, according to Detective Streadwick.

After Mr. Philhower’s arrest, she revealed alleged details in a second interview, according to testimony.

In court papers, the date of offense was listed as Aug. 15, 2014. An arrest was made on Oct. 6, 2014, followed by an indictment on Jan. 1, 2015. Four scheduled trial dates were postponed last year, and another on Jan. 6, 2016.

The trial adjourned at approximately 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, with the jury instructed to return to the Kent County Courthouse at 9 a.m. today. Mr. Philhower remained undecided on whether to testify and a decision will be made by 8:30 a.m. today.

William Deely, division head of Kent County’s Public Defender’s Office, is representing Mr. Philhower, who is being held by the Delaware Department of Correction. Resident Judge William L. Witham is officiating the jury trial.

A recorded interview

Deputy Attorney General Kathleen Dickerson presented Mr. Philhower’s Oct. 6, 2014, recorded interview with Detective Streadwick as evidence. In it the defendant agreed to talk under his Miranda rights — the right to remain silent that police must give suspects — because “I have nothing to worry about.”

In the interview, Mr. Philhower, a married father of three at the time, said an encounter with the girl outside the karate studio during a birthday party was only horseplay, and could have been misconstrued by a witness who happened to arrive in a vehicle.

Later, Mr. Philhower told police he had engaged in “stupid conversations when drinking through text messages” and kissed the girl when he shouldn’t have. He said he received three or four inappropriate photos via text and deleted them while realizing “things were getting out of hand.”

He said he also briefly made inappropriate physical contact.

The girl testified she felt “uncomfortable” with sex-related communications from Mr. Philhower and rebuffed a kiss attempt because “I didn’t like him that way.” Regarding alleged groping, the girl described it as feeling “weird.”

The Delaware State Police High Crimes Unit inspected Mr. Philhower’s phone, Detective Streadwick testified, but found no pictures, just texts and websites. The girl’s communication devices were never checked, he said, and he incorrectly believed no information could possibly be retrieved. The girl testified she immediately deleted photos on receipt.

According to the girl, she first declined to transmit photos of herself on Mr. Philhower’s alleged request, but then agreed the second time.

Testimony began with the girl’s father describing both his and Mr. Philhower’s family as having a close relationship in 2014, going to barbecues, bowling and karate events together. He had known Mr. Philhower for four years and considered him a friend, he said.

“I thought I knew him well,” the father said.

Eventually, the father testified, Mr. Philhower became a backup contact person in case his daughter couldn’t reach him. The father said Mr. Philhower approached him about the arrangement and said he felt like the girl “was a second daughter to him.”

Communication safety

The father said he believed he had safety controls on his daughter’s communication capacity, with a phone that blocked the Internet and by possessing her Facebook password.

“I thought I was being a good parent,” he said.

At the birthday party in August 2014, according to the father, Mr. Philhower approached him to explain an interaction with his daughter in the parking lot had been witnessed by someone else, but was innocent.

Later that night, the father testified, a witness called him and a lengthy conversation ensued. After that, the girl’s parents agreed interactions between their daughter and Mr. Philhower should be limited and involve no unsupervised time alone, along with keeping a watchful eye on her.

“I honestly believed him and was trying to protect his reputation,” the father said. “I believed her and him that it was a misunderstanding …”

In October 2014, the father said he was contacted by the Dover Police Department and a request to interview was made. Mr. Philhower called him later in the day, the man testified, and asked if he knew what was going on or if he needed to worry about anything.

Mr. Philhower also was interviewed on the same day, according to testimony, and the father was notified by Dover Police of his arrest. A second interview of his daughter with Dover Police was scheduled, he said.

Since the second interview, the father said he hasn’t discussed the matter with his daughter in order to not affect her memories of roughly 18 months ago.

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