Girl's abuser gets life sentence

With no physical evidence, he is found guilty of capital sexual battery solely on the strength of the victim's testimony.

Published May 8, 2007

A Palm Harbor man convicted of molesting an 8-year-old girl last month was sentenced to life in prison Monday as his family and friends wept and told a judge they don't believe he did it.

A jury found Kenneth Ahrens guilty of capital sexual battery last month after a two-day trial in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court.

Because there was no physical evidence, the jury appeared to convict the 46-year-old man on the strength of the girl's testimony.

The lanky girl with long blond hair is nearly 11 now. She was at the sentencing hearing with her father, mother and other somber family and friends.

"I really feel as though there are no winners here, " the girl's mother told Circuit Court Judge Timothy Peters.

"It's just placed such a hardship on everyone involved, " the girl's mother said. "You just have to place your faith that everything that happened in this court is right."

More than a dozen family members and friends came to speak for Ahrens, who worked at a car rental company.

Peters allowed them to speak but warned that he had no discretion over the mandatory life sentence.

"I love my father deeply, " 26-year-old Jeannette Ahrens said while weeping. "I know he is innocent. ... This is very hard on our family because we all know he did not do this."

Prosecutors accused Ahrens of molesting the girl at least twice between January and June 2004 at his home.

Ahrens' wife took care of the girl after school along with their own young daughter. From the start, Ahrens adamantly denied that the abuse took place.

Prosecutors said there was no physical evidence because the girl told her father of the molestation months after it happened.

The girl brought it up abruptly in October 2004 after hearing her father tell his own tale of confronting danger as a kid.

Prosecutors said they thought the jury found the girl credible because she described the molestation in detail.

She used simple language to describe things that a normal child that age would not know.

Ahrens' wife testified Monday that she loved the victim.

"If I thought for half a second that he would have done this ... I certainly would not be raising my 6-year-old daughter with him, " Colleen Ahrens told the judge. "He is going to go to prison for the rest of his life for something he did not do."

After hearing everyone speak, Peters addressed Ahrens.

"The only permissible sentence is life in prison, " he said.

As Ahrens was being led away, a family member asked Peters to allow him to kiss his small daughter and 12-year-old son.

"No, ma'am, not in court, " Peters said.

Senior Assistant Public Defender Greg Williams said he does not believe there was enough evidence to convict Ahrens. He has filed a motion for a new trial.

Outside of court, Assistant State Attorney Phil Matthey said the right man is going to prison.

"I have absolutely no doubt, " said Matthey, "that he is guilty of the crime he was charged with."

Jose Cardenas can be reached at jcardenas@sptimes.com or 727 445-4224.