URBANA — It was one year ago that two Thomasboro boys revealed "a secret they had to tell someone," a Champaign County prosecutor told a jury Tuesday.
The secret was the sexual abuse that they had suffered for years at the hands of a man who purported to love them, said Assistant State's Attorney Scott Bennett.
In opening statements of the predatory criminal sexual assault of a child trial of Lyn Niemann, 38, Bennett said jurors would hear how Niemann, an information technology specialist who worked for the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District, repeatedly abused the boys in his home and at his office.
Judge Heidi Ladd is presiding over Niemann's trial this week on eight counts of the Class X felony alleging sexual abuse to three boys under the age of 13 that took place between 2010 and 2012. A jury was selected Monday, and Bennett began laying out his case Tuesday morning. The case is expected to take all week.
If convicted of activity involving two of the three boys, Niemann must spend the rest of his life behind bars without possibility of parole.
"It's all over. No use crying about it," Bennett started his opening statement, recounting what the victims reported Niemann said to them after sodomizing them. "But it was never over."
Bennett said the evidence would show that Niemann showered the boys, who are both under 14, with advantages like camping trips, video games, riding four-wheelers, and shooting guns.
"He had fun with them in public. But he made clear that his affection for them came with a trade-off," Bennett said. "He was so confident of his control over them that he would do it with both of them in the room."
Bennett said evidence would show that Niemann even abused the brothers on nights or weekends in his office or the basement at the health district, which is located in the same building in Champaign as the Children's Advocacy Center, where the boys eventually gave taped statements about the abuse.
Bennett opened his case with Champaign County sheriff's Investigator Nicole Bolt, who photographed the evidence taken from Niemann's Thomasboro home and his Champaign office during court-authorized searches. Bolt said police seized from the home 27 sex toys, more than a dozen bottles of lubricant, six rifles, a shotgun, handguns, an Airsoft gun and several bottles of prescription medication.
Asked about the significance of the medicine, Bolt testified that when the boys complained of pain after the assaults, Niemann gave them prescription-strength pain medication. Later, the younger of the two boys who testified Tuesday said that his mother once gave him a painkiller after he complained that his bottom hurt.
Under questioning Tuesday afternoon by Bennett, the boys said Niemann played video games with them, let them drive dirt bikes, four-wheelers and a golf cart, took them camping in a recreational vehicle, and allowed them to shoot guns at their home, which was in a rural area. Although they shared a room, they each had a flat-screen television on the wall nearest his bed.
Bennett asked both boys if they had fun when they lived at their Thomasboro home, and both replied that they did. The prosecutor then asked them if things happened to them at that house that were not fun.
Each described how Niemann would punish them by making them write sentences repeatedly for such transgressions as cursing or fighting with each other.
They also said Niemann would send their mother to the store, then take one of them into their bedroom or his own bedroom and have them lie on the bed. As the boys watched cartoons, he sexually assaulted them. The older boy said it happened about once a month.
Asked if they ever told their mother what was happening, both said they did not.
"He said if we did, we would have to write a thousand sentences," said the younger of the two boys.
The older boy said Niemann had instructed them never to tell anyone and that he was scared of Niemann "because he did all those things and I didn't know what to do."
Both testified that Niemann reduced their chores or punishments in exchange for the sexual encounters.
Each boy testified that on one other occasion each, they saw Niemann sexually abusing the other. The older boy testified that he was once in the same room when Niemann was assaulting his younger brother.
It was in late March 2013 that the boys told their father, who is divorced from their mother, about being sexually abused by Niemann. The father contacted the Department of Children and Family Services, which launched an investigation in conjunction with the Champaign County sheriff's office. The third victim, a family friend, was identified later.
Testimony revealed that the boys' mother ran a day care center out of the Thomasboro home. She surrendered her license in the wake of Niemann's arrest on March 27, 2013. He's been jailed in lieu of $1 million bond ever since.
Assistant Public Defender Janie Miller-Jones said in her opening statement that Niemann's co-workers and the boys' grandfather, who was frequently in the Thomasboro home, are expected to testify that they never saw anything out of the ordinary to support what the boys alleged. She urged the jurors to keep an open mind as they heard the evidence.
Miller-Jones indicated that Niemann may also testify.