BROOKSVILLE — She took the stand to tell the secret she had kept hidden for years.
A male relative molested her, she said, starting at age 15 when she lived in Spring Hill. And he took nude photographs of her in sexually explicit positions, she said.
"It felt very uncomfortable but at the same time you're always taught (your relative) is someone you could trust," she said. "So I was sort of torn."
She answered pointed questions and looked at a handful of the 97 nude photos taken. She remained composed — until the prosecutor asked why she didn't come forward until two years ago when she was 19 and away at college.
"I was worried," she started, descending into tears. "I was scared of what (my mother) would say and whether she would believe me or not."
The woman's testimony opened the jury trial against Richard Lamerton, 50, who faces eight sex-related charges and a maximum 85 years in prison if convicted on all counts.
Lamerton's attorney Sean Cox of Clearwater told jurors in his opening statement that his client didn't take the photos and never inappropriately touched the woman. He said the woman's mother took the photos and blamed it on Lamerton out of spite.
"Those crimes never occurred and he didn't take the photos," Cox asserted.
The jury will hear more testimony today and could begin deliberating later in the day. (The Times is not naming the woman, identifying her relationship to Lamerton nor divulging some details in the testimony to protect her identity.)
Assistant State Attorney Brian Trehy opened the case by describing Lamerton, a former respiratory therapist at the Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point, as a controlling man.
The woman spent three hours describing the sexual abuse. She said Lamerton told her the nude photos would help with her budding modeling portfolio. The mock photo shoots would occur in the living room and take an hour. For some, he told her to wear only black high heels.
He also encouraged her to sunbathe topless and secretly took photos of her. And at other times, she testified, he inappropriately touched her.
The prosecutor handed jurors a folder with five nude photos. They scanned them as quickly as possible before passing them.
Lamerton's defense attorney suggested a different scenario, despite numerous objections from the prosecution, to highlight what he maintained was inconsistent testimony.
Cox said his client moved out of state before some of the photos were taken and asserted that the woman's mother took the pictures. The woman denied it; and so did her mother, testifying later in the day.
The defense attorney also noted the woman liked to watch the reality television show, Girls Next Door, which depicts the lives of Playboy magnate Hugh Hefner's three girlfriends. He implied that the woman wanted to have a similar lifestyle. She replied with an bewildered, "No.''
In questioning her, and later her mother, Cox focused intently on how this secret came to light.
The woman said she told a college friend after a dispute with her family about boyfriends and grades in which they cut off contact. The friend told her mother, who then told authorities.
The defense attorney suggested the allegations came in response to the fight, as retaliation. The woman said she was upset but the argument didn't prompt her actions. "I don't know why I decided," she added. I wanted "to give me some closure — that yes, this is wrong."
Before the woman left the stand, the judge allowed a juror to submit a hand-written question: "I'm just trying to figure it out, why she didn't run from home?"
The woman broke down again. "I see kids who run away," she said, "and they just end up dead."
John Frank can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 754-6114.