Wednesday, January 17, 2018
News Roundup

Clearwater man with history of accusations found guilty in child molestation case

CLEARWATER — Prosecutors had no doctors or DNA samples; no fingerprints, confessions or expert witnesses. In fact, they had no firsthand witnesses at all.

What they did have was a voice — a small voice from a small person, speaking of an awful thing with a preteen girl's guileless imprecision. A voice that said I don't know and I don't remember many times.

In the end, that voice was enough.

A jury Thursday found 49-year-old Clearwater contractor Henry Keith Cavaliere guilty of lewd and lascivious molestation, a charge that rested on a 12-year-old Palm Harbor girl's allegation that he molested her during a sleepover at his house when she was 7. The verdict came after a grueling two-day trial that featured the girl's testimony, as well as energetic efforts by Cavaliere's defense team to shred her credibility.

The conviction carried an emotional resonance beyond one incident or one victim: Cavaliere has been arrested five times on suspicion of child sex crimes since the 1990s, only to see the charges against him repeatedly reduced or dismissed. The most wrenching testimony in his trial this week in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court came from two adult women who said he molested them when they were 6 and 9, respectively.

As the verdict was read, Pinellas County Sheriff's Office Detective Mark Kolenda, the lead investigator in the most recent case, loudly exhaled from the gallery. Pinellas-Pasco Assistant State Attorney Kate Alexander — who earlier in the afternoon had delivered a blistering closing statement undermining the defense's argument that Cavaliere's victim was lying — broke down in tears outside the courtroom.

"For this victim, and for any victim in his past, and anybody in the future, this keeps him from hurting anyone else," Alexander said. "It's long overdue."

Kolenda looked up from his phone, which he was using in a frantic exchange of text messages with the adult victims. He read one sent to him aloud: Thank you. Thank you for all the work you do.

The work of securing a conviction for Cavaliere never promised to be easy. The challenges faced by detectives and prosecutors — a child witness with a spotty recollection of events, a lack of DNA or other physical evidence of an offense alleged to have occurred years ago — are the same that stop many molestation charges from ever reaching a jury.

But after a history of fruitless arrests of Cavaliere, authorities were determined that this time the outcome would be different, Kolenda said.

Prosecutors' efforts got a boost when Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Michael Andrews ruled that the two adult women who said they were molested as children by Cavaliere could testify, even though the current criminal case against Cavaliere was based solely on the 12-year-old's accusation.

Both women, now in their 20s and with children of their own, testified on Thursday. They left the courtroom weeping violently, trying and failing to exert some control over themselves as they passed the table where Cavaliere sat, wearing the same bemused expression he had worn throughout the proceeding.

But their turns at the witness stand served their purpose.

Each woman's account of abuse approximately mirrored that of the Palm Harbor 12-year-old, who said she awoke in the night while staying at Cavaliere's house with his young daughter, to find him touching her inappropriately. The Tampa Bay Times is not identifying the two women and girl who testified about alleged abuse because of the nature of the allegations.

Juror Sean Tennant, a 30-year-old marketing professional, said that the pattern established by the adult witnesses was key to overcoming the jury's initial misgivings about the veracity of the Palm Harbor girl's story.

"We had some contentious discussion about how much we could believe the accuser," he said. "We thought the story was pretty consistent throughout, however."

Cavaliere, a pale, thickly built man with dark eyes and thinning dark hair, had no outward reaction to the verdict when it was read. Dressed in the suit and tie he had worn throughout the trial, he calmly followed a bailiff who led him out of the courtroom.

Alexander said the State Attorney's Office would be seeking a life sentence for Cavaliere.

Andrew Crawford, Cavaliere's defense lawyer, declined to comment on the verdict.

The 12-year-old was at dinner with her grandparents when news of the conviction reached her Thursday night, her mother said.

The girl had displayed a preternatural calmness during the trial, answering evenly as prosecutors asked her to recount waking up to Cavaliere's predatory touches and as defense attorneys assailed her story, in part because she could not remember what she had for breakfast the morning after the incident.

The girl's steely exterior was misleading, her mother said. In the runup to the trial, the girl bawled at the prospect of seeing Cavaliere in court.

Her reaction to the news Thursday night?

"She just smiled," her mother said.

Peter Jamison can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4157.

Comments
Time to carbo load: Three new bakeries include an Australian bakery, second La Segunda

Time to carbo load: Three new bakeries include an Australian bakery, second La Segunda

LA SEGUNDAA Tampa Bay giant has stirred and is on the move. La Segunda Central Bakery, a family-owned Ybor City institution for nearly 103 years (they celebrated that birthday Jan. 15) and the largest producer of Cuban bread in the world, will open a...
Updated: 17 minutes ago
Temperatures falling fast; freeze warnings issued for Tampa Bay

Temperatures falling fast; freeze warnings issued for Tampa Bay

UPDATE: The National Weather Service has issued freeze warnings for Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando, Manatee and Sarasota counties.A cold air mass is moving southward through the Florida peninsula dropping temperatures across the Tampa Bay ar...
Updated: 25 minutes ago
McDonald’s manager gets ovation at Seminole Heights investigation ceremony

McDonald’s manager gets ovation at Seminole Heights investigation ceremony

TAMPA — Delanda Walker, the McDonald’s employee who gave police the tip that led to an arrest in the Seminole Heights slayings, received a standing ovation Wednesday during a ceremony thanking citizens who helped in the investigation.Mayor Bob Buckho...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Casino company set to sail again Thursday after deadly boat fire

Casino company set to sail again Thursday after deadly boat fire

PORT RICHEY — Tropical Breeze Casino Cruz said it plans to reopen on Thursday and resume shuttling passengers back out to its gambling vessel in the Gulf of Mexico three days after a boat fire forced 50 passengers and crew to abandon ship.The 72-foot...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Snow, ice and record cold grip the South; at least 8 dead

Snow, ice and record cold grip the South; at least 8 dead

ATLANTA — A layer of snow and ice and a record-breaking blast of cold closed runways, highways, schools and government offices across the South and sent cars sliding off roads Wednesday in a swath of the country ill-equipped to deal with wintry weath...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Water Street Tampa developers seek artist and design for $600,000 outdoor art near USF med school

Water Street Tampa developers seek artist and design for $600,000 outdoor art near USF med school

TAMPA — Water Street Tampa announced Wednesday it is seeking artists and proposals for a big piece of outdoor art for the plaza between one of the $3 billion project’s office buildings and the new building for the University of South Florida Morsani ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Dow Jones closes above 26,000 for first time

Dow Jones closes above 26,000 for first time

The latest on developments in financial markets (All times local):4 p.m.Stocks are closing higher on Wall Street, sending the Dow Jones industrial average to its first close above 26,000 points.The Dow had traded above that level on Tuesday but wound...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Pasco opens cold shelters, joining Pinellas, Hillsborough and Hernando

Pasco opens cold shelters, joining Pinellas, Hillsborough and Hernando

Temperatures are set to drop Wednesday and keep dropping, Tampa Bay. It’s time to take tonight’s lows seriously.That’s why cold shelters are opening in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando counties.PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Goodbye 70s. Hello freeze w...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Two Tampa Bay area students among those facing hazing charges in FSU death

Two Tampa Bay area students among those facing hazing charges in FSU death

TALLAHASSEE — Two students from the Tampa Bay area, sons of an assistant chief for the Tampa Police Department and a New York Yankees vice president, have been charged in the hazing death of a Florida State University fraternity pledge.Christopher M....
Updated: 2 hours ago

John McCain: Mr. President, stop attacking the press

After leaving office, President Ronald Reagan created the Ronald Reagan Freedom Award to recognize individuals who have fought to spread liberty worldwide. Nancy Reagan continued the tradition after her husband’s death, and in 2008 she bestowed the h...
Updated: 2 hours ago