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No 3rd trial in molestation case

Prosecutors decide not to pursue the charges against a church bus driver accused of molesting two children.

By CARRIE JOHNSON

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 1, 2001


INVERNESS -- Two trials were enough in the case of a 40-year-old church bus driver accused of molesting two children, prosecutors have decided.

Richard Michael Beard was scheduled to stand trial this week on two counts each of committing a lewd and lascivious act on a child younger than 16 and committing a lewd and lascivious act in the presence of a child younger than 16. It would have been his third time before a jury. Beard's first trial ended in a mistrial, and in the second, jurors failed to reach a verdict.

Instead, prosecutors announced they will not pursue the charges against Beard because "the need for criminal prosecution is outweighed by the likely detrimental effect further court proceedings will have on the child victims," court documents said.

Assistant State Attorney Lisa Herndon said the children in the case have moved on with their lives and no longer want to testify. Without the testimony of the children, there wasn't much of a case. No physical evidence was introduced, and there were no eyewitnesses.

Beard said Monday that he's just relieved not to have to go through another trial.

"This has been a blessing to me. It's been going on for so long. Now I can go on with my life."

The children involved in the case said Beard molested them repeatedly between Jan. 1, 1995, and April 1, 1997, when they were as young as 8 and 9 years old.

The Citrus Times is withholding the names of the children and the nature of their relationship with Beard to protect their identities. He befriended their family while driving a bus for Solid Rock Baptist Church in Homosassa, where they also lived.

Beard's first trial in October was declared a mistrial after one of the children testified about allegations against Beard involving another child for which he was not standing trial. The second trial, held in January, ended after 11 hours of testimony and four hours of deliberations when the six jurors failed to reach a verdict.

Although prosecutors have the option of refiling the charges, Herndon said it's unlikely they will.

Mark Rodriguez, Beard's defense attorney, said he was surprised the State Attorney's Office didn't drop the case sooner. Beard has maintained his innocence from the start, Rodriguez said, and refused to accept a plea bargain.

Rodriguez said the children's stories were inconsistent, and the younger of the two, a girl, grew so irritated by his questions at the last trial that she mouthed the word "a--hole" behind his back while testifying.

"Fortunately, the state did the right thing," Rodriguez said.

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