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Former Clearwater fire chief convicted of molestation gets hearing in effort for new trial

By Laura C. Morel
Former Clearwater Fire Chief Jamie Geer is back in court in his bid for a new trial. [Times files]

LARGO — Jamie Geer, the former Clearwater fire chief serving a life sentence for sexually abusing a girl throughout her childhood, was back in a Pinellas courtroom on Monday for a hearing in his bid for a new trial.

Pinellas circuit Judge Frank Quesada granted Geer’s motion for postconviction relief earlier this year and will ultimately decide if his conviction is thrown out.

Geer’s defense attorneys showed evidence on Monday on several key points they say were not presented during Geer’s 2012 trial, including a post on Tumblr, a blogging website, where the victim wrote about being worried about: "having my mom hate me forever."

Geer’s defense points out that the writing shows the victim was pressured by her mother to come forward to police.

But on the stand on Monday, the victim, now in her 20s, refuted that.

"At that point and time, I was struggling between deciding who I needed a relationship with," she said. "Would that be Mr. Geer … or my mother who I had a rough relationship with?"

Prosecutors also pointed out other excerpts of the victim’s blog where she wrote about how devastated she felt after coming forward. She ended it with: "This is how I feel right now. Thanks, chief."

"It’s a very vague posting with the potential for another interpretation," said Assistant State Attorney Sara Waechter.

Among the other grounds presented by the defense Monday:

• Geer’s defense at trial didn’t object to the state presenting evidence of other sex crimes with the victim that Geer wasn’t charged with.

• Detectives said at the trial that it was "their opinion" that the girl was untruthful when she initially told police Geer didn’t hurt her. That comment, the defense says, should not have been allowed.

• The lack of testimony of two officials who could have corroborated Geer’s testimony that firefighters schemed against him after Geer investigated missing drugs at the department.

Geer, now 63, was arrested in 2010. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement began its investigation in September of that year after receiving an anonymous letter that detailed the abuse.

Initially, both the victim and Geer denied the allegations, but weeks later, the victim told investigators he had abused her for several years.

The victim testified in the first trial that the abuse began when she was 8 or 9, when Geer first exposed himself to her. Geer was 50 when he first engaged in sex acts with the victim in 2004.

The girl, who was 17 when Geer was arrested, told authorities that he made her dress in lingerie and perform sexual acts as he videotaped her.

The strongest piece of evidence was a recorded phone call between the victim and Geer. She said she wanted closure and asked why everything happened. She spoke about how they had sex, and Geer did not deny it.

Geer had been a fire chief in Tennessee when Clearwater hired him in 2004. He was brought in to overhaul a department still recovering from the aftermath of a 2002 fire at a condominium high-rise that killed two residents and hurt three firefighters. The department was criticized for its handling of that fire, and Geer instituted extensive training reforms.

In 2012, a jury found him guilty of sexual battery, lewd or lascivious battery and unlawful sexual activity with a minor. He was sentenced to life in prison.

Contact Laura C. Morel at [email protected] Follow @lauracmorel.