BROOKSVILLE — A Hernando County judge on Friday sentenced Richard McDivitt to 35 years in prison for sexually molesting a 14-year-old relative, but not before a mysterious letter threatened to derail the case.
"The damage to this young lady — to her heart, her soul, her body and her mind — there's no way to ever measure how that is going to be carried on in her life," Circuit Judge Stephen Rushing said as he issued his ruling.
A jury convicted the 44-year-old Brooksville man in December of two counts of sexual battery, one count of lewd and lascivious molestation, and one count of lewd and lascivious exhibition.
The teenage girl's emotional testimony described how he performed sex acts while she slept and later forced her to give him oral sex after a driving lesson in 2006.
McDivitt took the stand to deny the charges and provided his own story. The jury didn't believe him.
Rushing's sentence labeled McDivitt — who had no prior criminal record — a sexual predator, added 10 years of sex offender probation and made him eligible for involuntary confinement.
It fell within the state sentencing guidelines and satisfied prosecutor Lisa Herndon, who had asked for 30 years. McDivitt faced a minimum of 21 years behind bars and a maximum of 90.
The entire hearing nearly dissolved after McDivitt's attorney produced a 125-word typed letter mailed Jan. 12 to his client in jail. It purportedly was sent by the victim and recanted her testimony, suggesting it was part of an extortion scheme, according to a copy reviewed by the Times.
"Richard, Why did you not just give (my mom) the money, then all the lies would never have been told," it starts. Later, it states: "I don't want to see you in prison. I hope this keeps you out and makes them let you go free."
The victim, now 17, testified that she didn't write the letter. "I have never seen that. I have never written to him," she said under oath. "I don't know what this is."
The judge declared it was not valid and asked the State Attorney's Office to investigate the matter to determine whether it perpetrates a fraud.
McDivitt's sister, Lequita Nolan of Lakeland, said outside the courtroom that she wasn't worried about the stiff sentence, saying, "We are going to appeal the whole deal."
She sat through the trial and thinks that the teen's story was inconsistent and unbelievable.
As for the letter, Nolan said she believes it. "I think she's lying," she said of the victim. "Who else would write one?"
John Frank can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 754-6114.