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Man Is Acquitted of Incest, Sodomy Charges

Only a Centreville father and his teen-age daughter know for sure what did or did not happen between them sexually. But as far as a Fairfax County jury of six men and six women is concerned, he is not guilty of incest and forcible sodomy.

His trial played out over two days, last week, in Circuit Court. And after deliberating just an hour and a half, the jury returned Tuesday evening, July 13, with its verdict.

Given the nature of the charges and the fact that disclosing the father's name or address would reveal his daughter's identity, Centre View is not providing this information. However, he is 38 and she has just turned 16.

He was arrested July 7, 2004, after his daughter told a girlfriend that he'd been molesting her. And despite the daughter's protests, the friend told the authorities. It took more than a year, though, for the case to come to trial — partly because the father kept changing his mind about pleading guilty or taking his chances with a jury.

On Aug. 27, 2004 in Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, the judge certified the charges against him to the grand jury. One month later, the grand jury indicted him on both of them. He was initially slated for a jury trial on Sept. 29, 2004, but the case was continued, and he decided to enter a plea on Feb. 7, 2005.

However, on that date, he changed his mind again and said he wanted a jury trial. His lawyer then withdrew from the case and a new court date could not be set until he found new counsel. The attorneys representing him in court last week were Kelly Sprissler and George Wooditch.

Interestingly, the father was in leg restraints during the whole trial — at the request of the Sheriff's Office — because he was accused of assaulting two deputies while in the Adult Detention Center.

In order that this not prejudice the jury against him, he was placed in noiseless nylon shackles and both attorney's tables in the courtroom were barricaded so none of the jurors could see his feet. Whenever he had to approach the bench with his attorneys, the jury was sent out of the room.

IN HER opening statement, Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Toni Fay said the girl is "not a perfect kid; in many respects, she is a typical teen-ager. But she has been, for years, holding a terrible secret. Her father has been having intercourse with her and sodomizing her. She didn't want him to get in trouble. But eventually, she couldn't keep it to herself anymore, so she told a friend."

Sprissler, though, called the girl a liar. "She made up these hurtful allegations because she's a normal teen-ager," she said. "She wanted to have a normal life — flirt with boys, chat online, go out with friends, etc. — but her father is a devout Christian and has strict beliefs about what he believes is righteous behavior. She had to help cook and clean, so she couldn't do these things. She was an angry girl — a girl trying to get away from her father's strict discipline."

Sprissler also said that the girl had gotten into trouble at high school and was expelled after a fight on a schoolbus. But she said the teen minimized her role in the fight to her father and lied about what really happened. As a result, said the attorney, the girl wasn't allowed to have any TV, phone, computer time, friends or fun — just chores. And, said Sprissler, "She made the allegations [in June 2004] four months after living this way."

In a July 8, 2004 affidavit for a search warrant to obtain forensic evidence from the man's person, police Det. Wayne Promisel of the Child Services Section, wrote that, "In interviews with the victim, she described acts of intercourse and sodomy that she and her father engaged in," wrote Promisel. "A forensic exam of the victim reflected corroborative evidence that such a relationship has existed."

FURTHERMORE, he continued, "subsequent information received from medical staff is that follow-up testing of samples taken from the victim for possible sexually transmitted diseases has come back positive for chlamydia."

In court, he testified that he listened to a second phone call between the girl and her friend. And later in the trial, the jury heard that phone call — in which the friend spoke about the allegations. They also heard the girl warning her friend not to tell anyone because she didn't have a mom, her father was all she had and she didn't want to be taken away from him.

Said the girl: "If you open your mouth and say something, I'll lose my dad and be in a foster home, so what's good about that? Everybody makes mistakes; nobody's perfect."

Promisel said that, after police obtained warrants for the father's arrest, he went to Pennsylvania where he was apprehended by a state trooper, at Fairfax County's request, after abandoning his car there.

Diane Burkart, a sexual assault nurse examiner at Inova Fairfax Hospital, testified that she examined the daughter and found that she had chlamydia. And although the father tested negative for it, Phillip Hackley — with whom the father and daughter were living in June 2004 and who's a longtime friend of the father — testified that the father admitted to him that he'd had chlamydia in the past, "but it was a long time ago."

Fay asked Burkart, hypothetically, how a woman could test positive for it and a man, negative, if he gave it to her. And she replied that, "He might have received an antibiotic for something else and, at the same time, it's possible that it cleared up the chlamydia." However, Wooditch asked her if the girl in this case could have gotten the disease from someone else, and the nurse said yes.

The girl then took the stand and said her mother had been in prison and was now in rehab. She'd lived with her grandmothers before coming to live with her father at age 6 or 7. She also said her father had been sexually abusing her since then and it continued into her teen years.

"My dad had me cleaning his clothes, cooking, cleaning up his messes, and being his play toy," she said calmly. "What do you mean by this?" asked Fay. "If he needed a sexual favor, he'd come to me," she replied. "If he needed some love, he'd start touching me. He'd say, 'If you want to get off punishment or go to your friend's birthday party, you'll have to [have sexual activity with me].'"

"DID YOU do that?" asked Fay. "Yes," she said. "I didn't want him to do it and I didn't like it, but I did it." When she was asked why she didn't tell an adult about it, she said, "I didn't want [him] to get in trouble, and I didn't want to leave him because he was the only family I had."

Fay also asked her why she didn't seem more upset about it, and she explained that she's been in foster care so much, over the years, that it made her stronger and she's "gotten over it." She also began receiving therapy after her father's arrest. She said she couldn't give exact dates when she was molested because "I was really used to it, and I didn't keep track of the times or days."

Sprissler got the girl to admit her role in the bus altercation and tell the court that she'd threatened the girl with whom she fought. Then Hackley testified that the girl gave her father lots of problems and was quite a handful.

"Her and her dad argued a lot," he said. "And she got in trouble a lot for lying about school, being where she wasn't supposed to be, getting caught shoplifting and talking back to her dad."

The father testified that he was hard on his daughter because she got into so much trouble. "I told her I didn't trust her," he said. For example, "She wanted to get off punishment because she wanted to go on a sleepover. I told her she could, but [instead of going on the sleepover as she'd told him], she got arrested for shoplifting in Maryland. I brought her back, and that's when I got real strict."

He said his other children had chores, too, but she was the only one who rebelled against them. "She'd get loud and obnoxious," he said in a soft voice. "I told her, 'There'll come a time when you'll say, 'Dad, I'm sorry for everything I've done to you.'" In June 2004, he said, he worked two jobs, plus he's active in his church. "I told [Det. Promisel] I didn't rape my daughter," he said. "I'm not that kind of person."

He also said he hadn't fled after learning that the police wanted to arrest him. He said he went to Pennsylvania to think things over. "I spend so much time in church and try to do good things," he said. "I cried, and I asked God why this was happening to me."

In giving his instructions to the jurors before they heard the attorneys' closing arguments and began their deliberations, Judge Bellows told them, "You are the judges of the facts, the credibility of the witnesses and the weight of the evidence. [The defendant] is presumed to be innocent until and unless he is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt."

FAY TOLD them not to mistake the girl's calm exterior as meaning she didn't care or wasn't telling the truth. "This girl has been through a lot," said Fay. "And if [she] was trying to get her father in trouble, she went about it the wrong way. She told [her friend] not to say anything."

But Sprissler said the teen "got on the witness stand and lied. It never happened." And in the end, the jury believed the father and not the girl and found him not guilty of either charge.

"It was a nice victory," said Sprissler afterward. "He feels fantastic and so does his family. They were pleased and excited, and I know he's very relieved."