TAVARES, Fla. — A Lake County jury apparently believed a Eustis man had nothing to do with blood found in the diaper of a 4-year-old autistic child he was changing last year.
Or least there wasn’t enough evidence to convict him.
Ronald Justin Howard walked out of his sexual battery trial late Tuesday a free man after jurors found him not guilty.
Howard, 25, could have faced life in prison without parole if convicted.
Howard, who was the boyfriend of the child’s mother on Feb. 2 of last year, testified he was changing the girl’s diaper that day and discovered blood in her stool and diaper. He thought her gastroenterology problems were flaring up.
He said he then informed the mother of the issue and the child was eventually examined.
The mother said she had seen no evidence of injury that morning, according to court records
Police and other child abuse investigators eventually got involved and determined the child had been sexually battered and Howard was charged.
During the two-day trial, there was a conflict between what Howard apparently told police during his interrogation and what he testified to on Tuesday.
Attired in a suit and sneakers, Howard was adamant on the stand that after he spotted blood in the child’s diaper, he only wiped anti-biotics around the child’s genitalia and not inside.
“All I did was change a bloody, poopy diaper,” Howard said on the stand.
However, Assistant State Attorney John Camerota pointed out that a video of Howard’s interrogation showed him telling detectives that his finger or a wipe he used to clean her might have slipped into her genitalia and “it was an accident.”
Howard denied that’s what he told police.
“Did you watch the video,” Camerota asked Howard, minutes before the defendant left the stand, ending the defense’s list to two witnesses.
However, one of the prosecution’s witnesses, a doctor, stopped short Tuesday of saying he knew for sure the child had been sexually battered. A doctor for the defense testified he didn’t believe the child was sexually battered — a doctor who admitted during cross examination that he was getting paid $300 an hour by the defense.
Testimony on Tuesday also included photos of the child’s genitalia flashed on a video screen with arguments of whether her hymen had been broken.
Walter Forgie, supervisor of the State Attorney’s Office, said it would be speculation on his part to guess why the jury rendered the not guilty verdict.
“As prosecutors we respect the province of the jury and their decision in this and all cases,” Forgie said.