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Man guilty of abuse on flight

By CARRIE WEIMAR
Published February 17, 2007


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TAMPA - As the minutes continued to tick by without a verdict, the parents began to wonder: What will we tell our daughter?

When jurors left the courthouse Thursday evening, they still hadn't decided whether to convict Ronald Mays, the Palm Harbor businessman their 9-year-old daughter accused of molesting her.

After two more hours of deliberations Friday, the girl's parents were worried. Their suspense ended at 10:55 a.m. when jurors announced they found Mays, 46, guilty of one count each of abusive sexual contact with a child, assault and obstruction of justice.

The girl's mother let out a sob when the first guilty verdict was read.

"We're happy to go home to our daughter and tell her that no other children will be the victim of this man, and that he's going to jail," the woman said, as she left the courtroom.

Mays just shook his head as U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday read the verdicts. His wife, Susan, wept silently.

Mays' lawyer, Frank Louderback, said his client was deeply disappointed.

"I'm certain there will be an appeal," he said.

As a first-time offender, Mays faces a potential punishment of 30 months in prison. A sentencing date has not yet been scheduled.

Mays is a vice president at InfoPartners, a Nashville technology company. He and the girl were passengers on Southwest Airlines Flight 2281 that left Tampa the morning of June 20, 2006.

The girl, who was headed to Detroit to visit her grandmother, sat in the second row. She said Mays sat in the same row and began talking to her.

When she invited him to watch a Pink Panther DVD with her, he slid into the seat next to her and asked if she wanted to put her legs on his lap, the girl testified.

When she said no, he pulled her leg toward him and placed his hand on her left thigh.

The girl said the man also reached across her to touch the plane's window and placed his forearm against her chest. The man touched his pants frequently throughout the flight, she said.

Later, he took a napkin with a drawing of the United States on it and placed it on his crotch. He asked her to locate states on the map but she refused. He also put a fruit bar on his crotch and asked her if she wanted it. She said no.

Mays was also charged with obstruction of justice for erasing files from his work laptop after FBI agents requested it. Special Agent Greg Christopher said images of child pornography were recovered from some of the deleted files.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Kaiser said she was pleased by the jury's decision.

"Justice was served," she said.

In addition to the criminal charges, the girl's parents have filed a $1.5-million civil lawsuit against Southwest.

The girl's father said he was relieved the criminal trial was over. After months of therapy to help their daughter forget the molestation, the trial was forcing her to relive it, he said.

"We have closure," he said. "God is good."

Carrie Weimar can be reached at 813 226-3416 or cweimar@sptimes.com.

[Last modified February 17, 2007, 02:06:11]


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