Teen alters plea in battery case
By CARRIE JOHNSON
© St. Petersburg Times,
INVERNESS -- A judge ordered that Sean Spiddle be released from a juvenile detention facility Monday, but the Crystal River teen's future is still uncertain.
Spiddle, 18, pleaded no contest Monday to a charge of lewd and lascivious battery with a child over the age of 12 but under the age of 16. Spiddle had originally been charged with sexual battery.
In an unusual move, prosecutors allowed Spiddle to change his plea after a witness came forward with new information about Spiddle's sexual encounter with a 13-year-old girl at a Crystal River party. The witness, a friend of Spiddle's who was in the room at the time of the encounter, said the sexual contact appeared to be consensual; prosecutors had been told the girl was asleep at the time.
At Monday's hearing, Assistant State Attorney Lisa Herndon told Circuit Judge Barbara Gurrola that after conducting interviews with the witness and the victim and her family, she felt comfortable with the new charge.
"I think that, in an abundance of caution, this charge is the correct charge," Herndon said.
But the terms of Spiddle's sentence are still unknown. He will be placed under house arrest until his next court appearance on July 31, where he will be sentenced. His punishment could range from more time in the juvenile detention facility to probation, Herndon said. In fact, she said Spiddle could get the same sentence he had received as part of his original plea agreement: 14 months in a level 8 juvenile detention facility.
Spiddle, dressed in a prison-issue orange jumpsuit, was contrite during the brief hearing. When asked by Gurrola if he had anything to tell the court, Spiddle said, "I think I've learned my lesson while I've been locked up for two months. I just want to say I'm sorry. I know what I did was wrong."
At the conclusion of the hearing, Gurrola warned Spiddle to be cautious in the future with members of the opposite sex.
"Mind your p's and q's is all I have to say," Gurrola said. "Society is different today than it used to be. People grow up very, very fast."
According to prosecutors, Spiddle touched the genitals of the 13-year-old at a party in February. Deputies from the Citrus County Sheriff's Office learned of the incident after the girl's brother vandalized the Spiddle family's cars. He told investigators he was angry because Spiddle had been sexually involved with his sister.
Spiddle was charged with sexual battery and entered a plea of no contest to the charge on May 10. His father, Kevin Spiddle, believes his son was coerced into making the plea by Assistant State Attorney Jeffery Smith, who said he would charge Spiddle as an adult if he did not accept the plea agreement.
Smith said it is standard to charge a youth over the age of 16 accused of sex-related crimes as an adult. He was not at the hearing Monday. Reached at home for comment, Smith said he was no longer involved in the case.
Herndon said Smith acted properly.
"It just happened that I got involved with it," she said. "I have no problem with what he did."
Kevin Spiddle said he's grateful Herndon agreed to reopen the investigation, but he's still disappointed by the outcome.
With a felony conviction on his rap sheet, it's unlikely his son will ever fulfill his dream of becoming a Navy SEAL.
"Everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong," he said. "The system is broke, broke, broke."
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