NEW PORT RICHEY — Ralph Roller, a once-prominent ranching figure in Hernando County, came to court this week on accusations he had sexual contact with a 17-year-old boy he mentored.
Officially, Roller was charged with unlawful sexual activity with a minor and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
After hours of back-and-forth, often uncomfortable testimony Wednesday, the second charge went away.
County Judge Anne Wansboro granted a motion for judgment of acquittal — an unusual ruling on a routine motion — on the delinquency charge, agreeing with Roller's attorney that the events of New Year's Eve 2005 were not shown to cause the accuser, now 20, to descend into a life of dysfunction and crime.
Roller, 45, still stands accused of taking the teen around his family's Cross Bar Ranch — 12,000 acres spanning the Hernando-Pasco line — looking for wild hogs and sipping whiskey, then taking him to an RV he kept on the ranch. There, prosecutors say, they watched a pornographic video, went into a bedroom and performed oral sex on each other.
Roller was president of the Hernando County Cattlemen's Association at the time of his arrest. He also helped organize the association's annual Rodeo and Barbecue Festival and served on the Hernando County Fair board.
He met the teen through his wife, a teacher at Hernando's Central High School, where the boy went to school.
The victim took the witness stand first. The Times is withholding his identity because of the nature of the allegations.
Under questioning by prosecutor James Goodnow, the victim said he pretended to be asleep during the sexual encounter.
He was, he said, "scared, confused, didn't know what to do, really."
During cross examination, defense attorney Christopher Frey drew out inconsistencies in the victim's story.
In an earlier deposition, he said he was "awakened" by Roller in the bed. Today, he said he was never asleep.
In the deposition, the victim said Roller came into the bedroom wearing only his boxer shorts. Today, he said Roller walked to the bed and undressed.
In the deposition, he said it had been raining that night. Today, he said, it had not.
"I can't really remember all the small stuff," he said.
"Okay," Frey said. "You can't seem to really remember much of anything."
But if things were looking iffy for the prosecution, Goodnow then called to the stand a Pasco County detective who had secretly recorded an interview with Roller.
Jurors heard the tape of Roller walking two detectives through the RV describing what happened.
In it, he said he and the teen sat on a couch and Roller hit play on a pornographic video.
The first sexual advance, he said, was made by the teen.
"He put his hand on my leg," Roller said on the tape. "He takes his clothes off, we go back, we lay down."
He said there was fondling. Then the two performed oral sex on each other.
"At one point it was both at the same time," Roller said on the tape. "I'm pretty sure we were side by side."
He said there was little or no conversation during the encounter — and no remorse afterward.
"Everything was fine," Roller told detectives.
The trial continues today.