NEW PORT RICHEY — A Port Richey man accused of sexual misconduct with a 13-year-old girl broke down in tears during his trial Wednesday.
On the witness stand, Branden Cass, 27, described his feelings the day two Pasco County sheriff's detectives met him in front of his apartment in February of 2008.
"I felt backed down, cornered. Intimidated," he said. "I've never done very well with confrontation or authority."
This wasn't the first time Cass was tried for this crime. In October of 2010, his trial ended in a hung jury even though jurors heard a taped confession in which he told detectives he molested the girl because, among other things, he was drunk and doing drugs, and because he was molested himself when he was younger.
Then and now, he was charged with lewd and lascivious battery and molestation for five separate incidents in 2007 and 2008. A jury of two men and four women heard the same tape played Tuesday and after two hours of deliberation, found Cass guilty of both charges.
He'll be sentenced Aug. 23 and could face 30 years in prison. Cass' pregnant girlfriend bit a white handkerchief to keep her composure when the verdict came. Cass did not react.
Throughout the trial, the defense reiterated that Cass' confession was false and coerced. He spoke slowly and quietly during his testimony. He admitted that he would draw on the victim's leg with a marker, but said there were always people present. He was living in the victim's house and dating her older sister, he said. He would argue with her and treat her "like a little sister."
"When I was on the computer or the TV, she would throw a fit or something out of the ordinary," he said, "to try and get attention."
Investigators found semen on the girl's bed but couldn't match it to Cass. The girl testified that she kept her eyes closed during the incidents, but said that Cass had sex with her.
During closing arguments, Assistant State Attorney Korey Milo questioned Cass' assertion that he was bullied into giving a fake confession.
"Initially you denied it," Milo said. "But for the last hour and fifteen minutes (of the recording) you admitted you had sex with a 13-year-old girl. Then you went into more detail, you told him the sex didn't last that long, and once you realized what you were doing you stopped. And this was all on the way to the jail."
Yes, Cass said.
"Mr. Cass if the jury believes what you told (the detective) then you're guilty of this crime," Milo said, "aren't you?"
Yes, Cass said.