St. Petersburg Times Online: Citrus

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies

Man faces sexual battery charge

But the incident involving a 5-year-old girl would have happened when he was 13, leaving the question of whether he can be prosecuted as a juvenile or adult.

By CARRIE JOHNSON, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 7, 2003


INVERNESS -- On the day after Christmas, 21-year-old Joseph Roddenberry got a visit from a detective who wanted to talk about the past.

In a hushed conversation outside a pet store where Roddenberry was employed, Citrus County sheriff's Detective Eric Barnhart accused the young man of pulling down the pants of a little girl and rubbing himself against her.

But there was an unusual factor in the case: The incident would have occurred eight years ago, when Roddenberry was 13 and the victim was 5.

Now Roddenberry, of Inverness, will probably be prosecuted as an adult for a crime he is accused of committing while only an adolescent, officials at the State Attorney's Office said Monday.

"I don't see any other option," said Assistant State Attorney Jeff Smith. "We can't charge him as a juvenile."

Roddenberry was arrested on a count of sexual battery on a child under the age of 12, which is a first-degree felony.

Because of the serious nature of the crime, there is no statute of limitations. If Roddenberry is prosecuted as an adult, in a worst-case scenario, he could face a possible life sentence in prison.

Smith said his office is still sorting out the best way to deal with the charge. But Smith said that because Roddenberry is more than 20 years of age, he cannot be prosecuted as a juvenile.

However, that does not prevent a defense attorney from arguing Roddenberry should be sentenced as a juvenile if he is convicted. The maximum penalty for the crime under the juvenile guidelines is a three-year prison term, Smith said.

Under Florida law, Roddenberry could have been prosecuted as an adult when he was 13 if he had been indicted by a grand jury, Smith added.

"If he could be charged as an adult then, he can be charged as an adult now," he said.

Assistant State Attorney Richard Buxman, who has been in charge of Roddenberry's case, said it's too early to determine how the State Attorney's Office will proceed.

"How we're going to handle it, what charges are going to be filed, that hasn't been determined yet," Buxman said.

Roddenberry is being held without bail at the Citrus County jail. He asked for a bail reduction during a court appearance Jan. 3, but it was denied by Circuit Judge Ric A. Howard.

A woman who answered the phone at a number listed on Roddenberry's arrest report described herself as a family friend and said she could not comment on the case.

According to the report, Barnhart went to the pet store the afternoon of Dec. 26 and asked to speak to Roddenberry outside.

Barnhart read the young man his rights and began questioning him about the 8-year-old incident.

The victim, now 13, told sheriff's deputies the episode occurred at a friend's house. She said Roddenberry told her to lie down on a bed and removed her pants. He then removed his pants and rubbed against her, the report said.

Roddenberry initially denied any involvement. But Barnhart told him the victim's younger brother had witnessed the incident from underneath the bed.

According to the report, Roddenberry then told Barnhart that "he did not mean to do it" and that he was very sorry.

Roddenberry also wrote a letter to the victim, apologizing for his actions, and asked Barnhart to deliver it to her, the report said.

-- Carrie Johnson can be reached at 860-7309 or cjohnson@sptimes.com .

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.