Friday, October 22, 2010

Former pastor guilty

http://www.willows-journal.com/news/jury-5450-four-sexual.html

JURY: Former pastor guilty of sexual abuse
Wednesday, Sep 29 2010, 6:30 am
By Rob Parsons/Tri-County Newspapers
Former Willows pastor Carlton F. Hammonds groped the breasts and buttocks of two teenage girls from his congregation in 2006 for his own sexual gratification, a Glenn County Superior Court jury ruled today.

The eight-woman, four-man jury deliberated for nearly four hours before handing down convictions on all charges: three felony counts of committing lewd acts with a teenager and a misdemeanor count of sexual battery.

Hammonds, 57, appeared emotionless as the court clerk read the verdict, but his friends and family wept quietly as Judge Peter B. Tweed excused the jury and ordered the Probation Department to prepare a sentencing report.

The verdict comes more than four years after the Glenn County Sheriff’s Office opened the investigation.

The case was frequently delayed by a combination of staffing issues at the District Attorney’s Office, scheduling conflicts and failed plea negotiations, authorities said.

Hammonds’ attorney, Adam B. Ryan, declined to comment on the verdict today.

Dwayne Stewart, assistant district attorney, requested Hammonds be remanded to the Glenn County Jail, but Tweed denied the request and allowed Hammonds to remain free under the conditions of his bail.

“In light of the charges and the potential for punishment, (Hammonds) now has motive to run,” Stewart said.

Stewart later acknowledged being a bit surprised that Hammonds was allowed to remain free until he is sentenced Nov. 3.

Stewart praised the four women who testified during the trial that Hammonds had sexually abused them.

“They had to sit up there and say the things that were done to them, they did this,” Stewart said.

Hammonds took the witness stand himself Tuesday and acknowledged hugging the reported victims frequently and admitted there were “possibly” times when he would be alone with them individually, but denied any wrongdoing.

“There was nothing romantic or sexual about it,” he testified.

Hammonds also appeared to get choked up when his attorney asked him directly if he is sexually attracted to children.

“Absolutely not,” Hammonds replied.

However, during cross examination, Hammonds acknowledged that if he were a sexual predator, he would not admit it openly.

Stewart said he was concerned with the case after his key witness changed her story for the sixth time, the latest on the stand, claiming for the first time that Hammonds had not only groped her, but also had raped her on one of the nights in question.

“You just don’t know how (the jury) is going to react to that,” Stewart said. “The purpose of (pre-trial investigations) is so you don’t have any surprises in court.”

In his closing statement, Ryan focused on the changing testimony of the prosecution’s key witness as well as inconsistent testimony from another witness and suggested the girls originally made up the allegations for attention.

“We know, based on (the reported victim’s) testimony that somewhere she is lying, there’s no doubt about it,” Ryan told jurors. “She wants to give you enough dirt, enough mud (to convict).”

However, testimony from lead investigator Glenn County sheriff’s Det. Kelly Knight suggested that it is common for many sexual assault victims to struggle telling their stories, noting that it was not unusual for critical details to emerge slowly.

Hammonds faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in state prison and will be required to register as a sex offender.

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