An Ocala man continues to wait in custody for a judge to decide whether he deserves a new trial. It has been more than six months since his conviction.
The 29-year-old maintains his innocence of the two charges for which a jury found him guilty in an early September 2015 trial: lewd and lascivious molestation of a child and burglary of a dwelling with battery.
The charges arose from a June 2014 call to the Ocala Police Department, in which a concerned grandmother relayed her granddaughter’s story that the man had come into her room during the night and rubbed his genitals over her shorts.
The man is well known to the girl, who was 10 years old at the time, and her family. He said he is close friends with the girl’s mother and was a regular visitor to the Ocala home the three generations of women shared.
The man has been challenging his conviction by petitioning for a new trial.
While the judge denied his first motion for a new trial, filed by the public defender who represented him at trial, his second motion is pending and was the focus of a hearing this week. During the hearing, the girl changed her story to some extent, recanting the part of her original testimony that related to the molestation charge.
The judge is expected to decide on the motion at a hearing set for 10 a.m. April 29. Should the man be granted a new trial on both charges, he could be released from the Marion County Jail as he waits for the new trial.
The man’s first motion for a new trial highlighted a new finding in jury conduct: one juror informed the man’s public defender that she did not know she was allowed to disagree with the other jurors, according to the motion. The public defender polled the all-female jury. Two jurors changed their verdicts, prompting more deliberation and an eventual consensus around a guilty verdict.
William Sheslow, of Whittel & Melton, LLC, was hired by the man after his trial and has pursued a different avenue in a second motion for a new trial. Sheslow argued that the man deserves a new trial based on a notarized statement from the victim’s mother, in which she wrote that her daughter told her after the trial that the man had never molested her. Sheslow also pointed out an antagonistic relationship between the mother and the public defender in the original trial, which he said would have prevented the public defender from obtaining this information.
The antagonistic relationship stemmed from an unrelated case, in which the mother was a victim and the public defender represented the defendant (who was not the man convicted in this case).
Sheslow presented this motion before the judge in November, and the judge requested that he subpoena the mother so he could gauge her credibility at a future hearing before making a decision. That hearing came Monday, when court records indicate the mother, the grandmother and the now 12-year-old girl all testified. The public defender testified as well.
Sex crimes, especially those believed to have been committed against a child, are taken very seriously by courts, as this case shows. The truth is that these cases often rely on the alleged victim’s testimony against the word of the accused. Sadly, testimony from a child is not always an accurate account of what truly happened, and prosecutors will push for a conviction regardless of what evidence is available.
A Florida Criminal Defense Lawyer at Whittel & Melton knows that sometimes mistakes are made during a criminal trial that can lead to wrong decisions being reached. Fortunately, Florida law provides for legal remedies to correct an improper conviction or sentence. A motion for a new trial may allow you to have your case heard again, but by a different jury.