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Teen girl tells court about of sex abuse at relative's hands

On trial in Brooksville on Wednesday, Richard McDivitt, 44, faces sexual battery charges.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

On trial in Brooksville on Wednesday, Richard McDivitt, 44, faces sexual battery charges.

BROOKSVILLE — The graphic questions ended and the teenage girl left the witness stand visibly shaken.

For more than an hour Wednesday, the 17-year-old recounted how an adult relative sexually abused her three years earlier.

In front of the jury, she largely kept her composure.

"I don't want to remember this but I have to," the girl said, clutching a worn tissue. But once the courtroom door closed behind her, she dissolved.

She burst into loud sobs that echoed back into the courtroom where Richard McDivitt, 44, faces 90 years in prison for two counts of sexual battery and two counts of lewd and lascivious behavior.

The girl's traumatic experience underlined why so few alleged sexual molestation victims take the stand.

"You don't want to put the victim through it all over again," explained Mary Johnston, a victim and witness counselor with the State Attorney's Office in Brooksville. "A lot (of victims) are apprehensive. They don't want to face the defendant — don't want to be in the same room with them again."

McDivitt's case, which continues today, is the first sexual battery trial in Hernando County in at least two years and the first ever for Circuit Judge Stephen Rushing.

These sensitive cases are generally handled quietly to protect fearful victims. (The Times is not naming the girl for similar reasons.) Attorneys typically settle the cases with a plea deal that gives the defendant a lesser sentence in order to spare the victim from testifying.

But McDivitt refused a plea deal that prosecutors considered generous and took his case to the six-member jury, maintaining his innocence.

His court-appointed attorney, Michael Amico, refutes the accusations, suggesting they are bogus and unsubstantiated.

The prosecution's case, void of physical evidence, relies on the testimony of the girl who told authorities in November 2006 that McDivitt molested her at night while she pretended to sleep and forced her to give him oral sex after a driving lesson. The alleged abuse took place several times over several months but the girl doesn't remember how many times or any specific dates.

The most emotional point of the testimony came when Assistant State Attorney Lisa Herndon asked the girl why she didn't come forward sooner.

"I'm scared," she replied, putting her hands over her face as tears welled in her eyes.

"Do you need a minute?" the prosecutor asked.

"No."

After a few tissues, the prosecutor continued, "What changed? You say something to your mom."

"He told me not to … he told me not to tell anybody."

"Why did you do what he said?"

"Because I didn't know what he was going to do."

In his cross-examination, McDivitt's attorney tried to tread lightly as he highlighted numerous inconsistencies between the girl's previous statements and her courtroom testimony.

Amico acknowledged his client was a cheating husband who abruptly abandoned his family members and moved to Georgia, but "he is not a child molester." McDivitt has no criminal history in Florida.

He made the case that the accusations stem from a feud between McDivitt and the girl's mother concerning money.

The defense team also challenged the validity of the statement McDivitt gave Piedmont, Ga., police, saying it was coerced and violated his rights.

In the afternoon, McDivitt took the stand in his own defense and denied the girl's story.

John Frank can be reached at jfrank@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6114.

Teen girl tells court about of sex abuse at relative's hands 12/17/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 23, 2008 6:34pm]
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