Fredrick Cliff Kirkland testified at his sex-crimes trial Tuesday, crying at times and raising his voice before looking directly at jurors and vehemently denying ever having molested three young girls.
Kirkland, 69, said he still doesn't understand why the three girls he met as friends of his relatives' children came forward to accuse him of molesting him for years.
"So if you did a lot of good things, then why in the world would they come up and make this up?" Assistant District Attorney Alison Baker asked Kirkland. "Why in the world would they lie about this about this if you had such a good relationship with them."
"I have no idea," Kirkland said.
"So that is your testimony that they are lying?" Baker said.
"They are certainly not telling the truth when they accused me of touching them for lustful purposes," Kirkland fired back.
Baker and Assistant District Attorney George Huffman are prosecuting Kirkland on nine counts of touching a child for lustful purposes in Harrison County Circuit Court in Biloxi. If convicted, Kirkland faces a maximum of 15 years in prison on each count.
The three victims were 9, 11 and 13 years old when the alleged molestation began, according to court records. Biloxi police investigated the case and said the crimes occurred from 2013 to 2017.
In each case, the girls said Kirkland fondled them on a multi-colored couch bed in a makeshift apartment where he lived upstairs at his blue house on Thomas Street.
Kirkland's relatives lived downstairs with their two children. The girls started coming over to the Thomas Street after befriending one of the girls.
Spending more time with relatives
Kirkland said he missed spending a lot of time with his two children when they were growing up because he was focused on his work, so he promised himself to spend more time with his younger relatives while they were growing up.
Kirkland said the girls often came to his blue house on Thomas Street to spend the night with his young relatives who lived there; at first, he said, the girls usually slept in the room with his young relatives but then later started sleeping upstairs sometimes in the couch bed in his makeshift apartment upstairs.
He said them sleeping upstairs all started after one of the alleged victims said she saw a roach in Kirkland's young relative's room downstairs, and the two asked to sleep in his pull-out couch bed upstairs.
He said the girls asked him to get in the bed with them that night until they fell asleep because they were still frightened about the roach. He said he stayed there until they fell asleep and then went to his bedroom to go to bed.
On most visits, he said, all but one of the alleged victims usually slept in the room downstairs with his younger relatives.
The alleged victim who stayed on the couch bed upstairs had developed a close relationship with him just as he had with her mother. He said she stayed at his home often along with the rest of his family because of tension between her and her mother.
He said he considered all of the kids that stayed the night at his home like family, and that he often took them to eat ice cream, out to dinner or to baseball games because that's the way he was raised to be
The girls, he said, were visitors, and he treated all of them when he could.
Still, Kirkland admitted he often gave massages to the girls when they complained about hurting their shoulders or legs or otherwise during cheer practices, gymnastics, or other activities. He said he didn't start doing any of the massages until after one of his young relatives asked him to.
A compromising position
During his testimony, prosecutors attempted to shoot holes through Kirkland's claims that he had done nothing wrong.
On at least one occasion, Baker pointed out, one of the girls told Kirkland's young relative when she saw Kirkland pleasing himself sexually while she was upstairs.
Kirkland said he was in his bedroom when she saw him in the act but said he thought he had privacy at the time.
Though his bedroom door was open at the time, Kirkland said, he had checked first and saw that the alleged minor victim was asleep on the pull-out couch, so he thought he had privacy.
And if the girl had gotten up, he thought he would have heard her before she saw anything.
A couple of days later, he said, his ex-wife came over to tell him the girl had seen him in the act and told one of his young relatives about it.
"My immediate reaction was embarrassment and humiliation," he said because he thought it had been a private moment.
He later spoke to the minor girl about what she had seen.
'I told her I thought that was a natural human function that people do," he said.
Prosecutors, however, repeatedly pointed out that Kirkland said he usually slept naked in his bed upstairs. That included when at least one of the minor girls stayed upstairs alone in the couch bed.
The minor who stayed at Kirkland's blue home the most slept alone on the couch bed.
Kirkland said he and that girl and her mother and him had a closer relationship. He said the young girl stayed more often because the mother and daughter duo sometimes clashed and the young girl wanted to get away, or her mother wanted her to go there to give themselves some time apart.
That same minor girl was the first to break her silence and share the alleged abuse that ultimately led to the Biloxi police investigation and his arrest in December 2019 for allegedly fondling the three minor girls.
Kirkland said he never imagined being under investigation for such crimes.
A successful career in media, public relations, and more
In testimony, Kirkland recalled how he grew up in Biloxi, attended school at Nativity, then attended Lopez Elementary before graduating from the old Norte Dame High School in 1970.
He said he spent his life working hard and tried to pursue a baseball career
He first attended college on a baseball scholarship at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. After a year there, he got a scholarship to play baseball at the University of Southern Mississippi,
About a month before graduating college, when he realized pursuing a professional baseball career wasn't going to work out, he said he got a call about joining the Mississippi newspaper in Pascagoula as a sports editor. He said his second love after baseball was journalism, and he took the job.
After a year there, he said he went to work as a sports editor at the South Mississippi Sun newspaper in Biloxi before that newspaper merged with the Daily Sun to become the Sun Herald newspaper.
He stayed on as a sports editor until around 1989 when he accepted a job as head of marketing in Biloxi and then as chief operating officer.
After that, he worked in public relations at a Coast casino, then as a consultant, and later got back into public relations in Las Vegas before returning home to the Coast when his mother got sick.
He was employed as chief of innovation and development in the city of Biloxi at the time of his December 2019 arrest.
The arrest: Chained to the floor
He said he still remembers the day at least 10 Biloxi police cars showed up at his home.
He said he had just gotten a bath and was getting dressed when someone knocked on the upstairs door to his apartment.
"I saw what I assumed to be policemen," he said. "One of them told me to turn around and he handcuffed me."
He said he asked what he had done and why he was being arrested.
He said the police officers told him he'd find out soon enough.
After that, Kirkland recalled as he wept about how he was "marched right out in front of my grandchildren and my daughter and son-in-law."
Once at the police station, he said, "they sat me down in a room by myself and chained me to the floor."
Kirkland still questioned why the minor girls had accused him of the crimes.
He also even references text messages he sent to victims that have been misconstrued and that he often joked in messages he sent to one of the accusers.
In one text, Kirkland cites some of the lyrics from a love song called, "Someone You Love." He said sending that was simply sharing some words from a song that the girl and his young relative loved to sing together when they were around him.
In another message, Kirkland expresses how much he misses an accuser.
He said he's been the type of person to tell people he cares about how he feels about them since he lost his dad years ago before he made it home to say goodbye himself.
In addition, he said, he has an odd sense of humor and is often joking in some of the texts though others might not understand that because of his sense of humor.
A man of truth and veracity
On Monday, testimony ended after at least six witnesses, including Sue Torjusen, the owner of Le Bakery in Biloxi, Kirkland's ex-wife, Bonnie McNeal, his son-in-law, and his granddaughter and others testified about his good character and trustworthiness in the community.
His granddaughter also spoke about how she felt one of the alleged victims often blew things out of proportion and questioned the allegations lodged against the grandfather she adored.
One of his granddaughter's friends also testified, saying Kirkland never once made any inappropriate advance on her in the years she has been friends with the family. The girl has been friends with Kirkland's granddaughter since kindergarten.
The defense rested its case late Tuesday.
Closing arguments begin Friday.