Molestation conviction overturned
The Supreme Court says there wasn't enough evidence after the accuser recanted her story.
By JOSE CARDENAS
Published May 1, 2007
The Florida Supreme Court has reversed a St. Petersburg man's sexual molestation conviction because justices said there was not enough evidence to convict after the girl recanted her story.
Raymond Andrew Baugh, 30, was sentenced to life in prison in 2004 after a Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court jury found him guilty of capital sexual battery on a 7-year-old girl.
In a 4-3 decision Thursday, justices disagreed with the trial judge on whether the circumstantial evidence had been strong enough for a jury to decide guilt.
"We conclude that the other evidence collectively did not actually 'corroborate' the girl's recanted out-of-court statements, " Justice Peggy A. Quincy wrote for the majority.
The decision does not have broad-ranging implications, said Charles Rose, a professor at Stetson University College of Law.
Few sexual assault prosecutions have no physical proof, he said.
"This is one of those cases on the very edges of proof, " he said.
Baugh lived with the girl's mother. He was accused of molesting the girl in a bedroom behind a locked door. When the mother got inside, the girl told her what happened.
The girl later told investigators that Baugh had molested her 12 previous times. But a month later, the girl told her mother that she had lied.
Among the additional evidence, prosecutors argued that:
- The girl made the accusation spontaneously immediately after the molestation happened.
- When the mother walked in, prosecutors said Baugh told her he wanted to molest the girl again and then have sex with the mother.
- An inmate testified he heard Baugh tell someone visiting him in jail that they had to get the girl to change her story because he faced a life sentence.
The 2nd District Court of Appeal upheld Baugh's conviction. But it asked the Supreme Court to answer a question:
Must a trial judge acquit a defendant when a child recants his or her testimony and there are no eyewitnesses or physical evidence, but there is other evidence that corroborates the accusation?
In the dissent, Justice Raoul G. Cantero III wrote that the sum total of the evidence supported the girl's original statement.
For example, Cantero wrote, the girl gave a detailed description of the molestation. Her mother described banging on a locked door.
"We would have preferred the well-written and well-reasoned dissent in this case, " said Beverly Andringa, an executive assistant in the state attorney's office.
Children often recant their stories for good psychological reasons, said Rose. Prosecutors usually explain to the jury why the victim has recanted and present additional strong evidence.
In this case, "the Supreme Court said, 'Hey, guys, you've got to have something, ' " said Rose.
Jose Cardenas can be reached at (727) 445-4224 or firstname.lastname@example.org.