Jury finds man not guilty of rape but guilty of unlawful sexual contact

Posted Jan. 19, 2011, at 2:04 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:31 a.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Jurors late Wednesday afternoon found an Aroostook County man not guilty of raping his ex-girlfriend’s 12-year-old daughter but guilty of having unlawful sexual contact with the girl 18 months ago.

Defendant David Churchill, 26, of Fort Fairfield put his head in his hands and cried as the verdict was announced in a second-floor courtroom of the Penobscot Judicial Center.

Churchill did not take the stand.

The jury of four women and eight men issued the split decision after deliberating for more than 4½ hours Wednesday. Jurors found Churchill not guilty of gross sexual assault, a Class A crime, and guilty of unlawful sexual contact, a Class C crime.

Although indicted on a Class B charge of unlawful sexual contact, the judge allowed the charge to be amended Wednesday after a sidebar discussion with attorneys.

“Some jurors had a problem with the credibility of the girl,” a member of the jury who asked to remain anonymous said Wednesday night. “Because her testimony was the only evidence of the alleged incident presented, some people couldn’t get from her testimony to guilty on the gross sexual assault charge.

“But ultimately,” he continued, “jurors agreed there was sufficient evidence to support the conclusion that a crime had been committed.”

Jurors heard a day and a half of testimony before beginning their deliberations at about 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.

The victim was the first witness Tuesday after opening statements. An eighth-grader at a Bangor middle school, the girl described herself as a student athlete who gets good grades.

The girl, now 13, cried as she told jurors that Churchill began kissing and undressing her in her mother’s bed early on the morning of July 29, 2009. She testified that the defendant touched her genitals before undressing himself.

She told jurors that she pushed him off her after he unsuccessfully attempted to have sexual intercourse with her. A short time later, Churchill dropped the alleged victim off at a baby-sitting job.

After deliberating for about an hour and 15 minutes Wednesday, the jury asked for the girl’s entire testimony to be read back.

“People wanted to revisit her description of the incident and hear her words again without the emotion,” the juror said. “Others wanted to hear it again to clarify the actual elements of the crime.”

In his closing argument Wednesday morning, Michael Roberts, the deputy district attorney for Penobscot County who prosecuted the case, asked jurors to focus on the alleged victim’s testimony.

“Ask yourselves if this was easy for her to talk about and if her statements were consistent in the context in which they were made,” he said. “Ask yourself if she was credible.”

Defense attorney Hunter Tzovarras of Hampden told the jury that the fact that the prosecution had offered no medical records for the victim and no DNA evidence left room for reasonable doubt and not guilty verdicts.

“The state has offered no other evidence that in any way backs up the crime it is accusing my client of,” he said.

Tzovarras said after the verdict that his client was relieved to be acquitted of the more serious charge, which carried a maximum sentence of 30 years, but disappointed to be convicted of any charge. The defense attorney said that he planned to appeal the jury’s decision.

The prosecutor also expressed mixed feelings about the verdict.

“I’m glad on her behalf to be able to get the guilty verdict,” Roberts said. “Frequently this evidence comes down to ‘he said, she said.’”

After the verdict was announced, Superior Court Justice Kirk Studstrup allowed Churchill to remain free on $1,000 cash bail until his sentencing.

A sentencing date has not been set, but Roberts said after the verdict that he would recommend a sentence close to the maximum allowed.

Churchill faces up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.

Similar articles:

ADVERTISEMENT | Grow your business
ADVERTISEMENT | Grow your business