NEW PORT RICHEY — A jury of two women and four men deliberated for an hour Thursday before acquitting Eric Richards of Hudson of three counts of sexual battery with a deadly weapon, aggravated battery and kidnapping.
The jurors didn't know he'd previously been accused of a similar crime.
The trial lasted four days and much of the state's case relied on the testimony of the victim, an admitted prostitute and drug addict. The woman, who is not being named due to the nature of the allegations, told of a night in November of 2011 when Richards picked her up and took her to his home. He tied her up, raped and beat her, she testified. She ran nude to a nearby house after he fell asleep.
Richards, 42, took the stand in his defense. After the verdict, he said that decision may have tipped the scales in his favor.
"I believe that you can't win unless you go out there," he said. "You only win if you stand up for yourself."
The decision, he said, was a culmination of what he knew all along. He said he cooperated with authorities the whole time and he knew the case against him was weak.
One female juror in the trial said there simply wasn't enough evidence to convict Richards and put him away for the rest of his life.
"In my heart, did he do something to that girl? Absolutely," said the woman, who declined to give her full name. "To watch him walk out of there makes me sick to my stomach."
No DNA evidence was found linking Richards to the crime, and his attorney said the relationship between the two was a friendly one.
Richards was previously arrested on charges of battery in December of 2008. According to an arrest report, two Pasco sheriff's deputies in an unmarked car witnessed Richards and a woman arguing. He pushed her, the report said, and punched her in the face. She fell to the ground.
After his arrest, the report said, Richards told police the woman was walking down U.S. 19, and he picked her up. He said he punched her because she "continuously insulted him during the argument."
He was appointed a public defender and the case went to trial. A jury found him not guilty on Sept. 22, 2009.
"Justice was served," his mother, Eunice Tatum said after Thursday's verdict. "He has been exonerated."