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    Affair could be issue at trial

    Questions about a relationship between a detective and a victim cloud a fraud case.

    By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE

    © St. Petersburg Times, published April 23, 2001


    LARGO -- Pinellas sheriff's Detective Rick Narum says he did nothing wrong when he began having sex with the victim in a criminal case he investigated.

    Even so, prosecutors -- certain the relationship would become an issue at the trial of the woman accused of defrauding the victim -- told Narum to write a memo listing all his dates with victim Debra Dawson.

    Then they gave the memo, listing nine specific dates, to the defense lawyer representing Sherrie Lee Cannon, the woman accused of stealing at least $20,000 from Dawson.

    Prosecutors said they wanted full disclosure.

    But did Narum tell all?

    His memo failed to mention a date at a Carrabba's restaurant. And a dinner at a Sweet Tomatoes. Or the one at a Boston Cooker. Or the birthday party for a member of Dawson's family.

    In all, Narum and Dawson had at least seven additional dates not listed in Narum's memo. Says who?

    Narum's girlfriend, Debra Dawson.

    Dawson, 41, told lawyers in the case during an April 11 deposition, two weeks after Narum wrote that memo to prosecutors, about her relationship with Narum and their numerous dates beginning last December. But she described during questioning dates Narum never mentioned to prosecutors in his own memo.

    Cannon, 47, is charged with a scheme to defraud Dawson, who says she lost as much as $160,000. Cannon faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted at a trial beginning May 8.

    Why Narum's memo to prosecutors does not include many of the dates Dawson detailed to attorneys remains unclear. Prosecutors, sheriff's officials and Narum himself decline to explain.

    Narum, 44, reached by telephone Friday, said, "They were asking me for specific information, and I was just providing that information."

    He said his relationship with Dawson is irrelevant to prosecutors' case against Cannon, whose attorney he accuses of making an issue of the relationship for publicity's sake.

    "You're way off base," he told a reporter asking about the relationship. "You know something? What goes around, comes around. In the end, everybody's going to know what transpired."

    Sheriff's internal affairs investigators are now investigating the relationship.

    Narum referred additional questions to his attorney, who did not return calls for comment.

    "There are so many lies flying around this case, it's ludicrous," said attorney John Trevena, who represents Cannon. "I pray prosecutors take this case to trial. I can't wait to entertain a jury with this tale."

    He said the sex is certainly relevant to the case and something jurors should weigh in judging the credibility of the detective and his girlfriend. Can Narum, the lawyer asks, truly say he was unbiased and that his investigation was conducted impartially?

    The case already was one of the most unusual in recent Pinellas history.

    According to Narum's investigation, Dawson was duped by Cannon into marrying a law enforcement agent in a telephone ceremony. That's the fictitious "agent" whose funeral Cannon is then accused of staging with the help of an empty casket.

    Dawson found herself so confused she gave money to Cannon for payments she thought would protect her four children from a gang, Narum said.

    Though Trevena extensively questioned Narum and Dawson about the case at depositions on March 19, neither revealed their relationship to him.

    Narum told his supervisors about the relationship, and they called prosecutors. Prosecutors informed Trevena this month.

    Prosecutors say Narum and Dawson, who could not be reached for comment, insist their relationship did not start until after Narum finished his investigation against Cannon by September 2000.

    So the relationship had no effect on his work to build a case against Cannon, they said.

    Trevena said he doesn't believe that and thinks the relationship had begun months earlier, long before Narum recommended to prosecutors that Cannon be charged.

    On April 11, Trevena finally got a chance to interview Dawson about the relationship. Trevena said Dawson's testimony was inconsistent, showing clearly that she wasn't telling the full truth, he said.

    For instance, Trevena said, Dawson described how Narum met her mother, visiting from Connecticut, and brother, Bill Dawson, at Pepe's restaurant in Clearwater.

    "It was my brother's birthday," Dawson said, according to a transcript of the deposition."This was on New Year's Eve, you believe?" Trevena asked.

    "No, this is different. This was -- was it Bill's birthday?" Dawson said. "No. It couldn't have been Bill's birthday."

    "When is Bill's birthday?"

    "March, so ... " she said. "So, wait a second. I think we just, no, it wasn't Billy's birthday. I think we just went out ... to dinner. We were talking about having his birthday there, but we didn't go for his birthday. It was not Bill's birthday. Sorry about that."

    Did her mother visit them for any particular reason?

    "I don't believe so," Dawson said. "I'm trying to think of when she came. So, it had to be January. It was my mother's birthday ... It must have been Jan. 30 ... That is her birthday. I'm not sure if they were there that day, but that is what we were celebrating."

    Trevena said the testimony is transparently false and inconsistent.

    "(Prosecutors) can't allow someone to present testimony that is an obvious lie," Trevena said. "They should proceed with caution."

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