TAMPA — The cell-phone texts composed in the spring of 2011 were like those of a teenage crush in full, sappy bloom:
"I love you."
"I love you more."
"No, you got it backwards. I love you more than you love me."
Only one of the senders was a teenager — a 15-year-old high school sophomore. The other was a 39-year-old Hillsborough sheriff's deputy named William Todd Best. He is standing trial this week for four counts of lewd and lascivious battery of a minor. Each carries a maximum prison term of 15 years.
The girl read hundreds of the texts Wednesday to a jury in a faint, monotone voice, occasionally glancing at Best. Few were overtly sexual. Most were tediously adolescent-sounding. They signed off with a hugs-and-kisses "XOXOXO."
Best's attorneys say the texts were parodies of love letters — a shared joke.
But the prosecution contended they came out of numerous sexual encounters between the girl and the deputy, usually at the Riverview home that Best shared with his grandmother.
Testifying for more than three hours, the girl described how she and her mother met Best the previous year at a Department of Motor Vehicles office, where Best moonlighted.
Conversation between the mother and deputy led to a friendship and eventually a sexual encounter between the two adults. By the end of 2010, the girl's mother and father had separated. The mother and daughter were invited to outings on Best's boat and barbecues.
All that time, the girl said, she and Best were texting each other, first in a friendly way, then romantically.
Unaware, the mother drove her daughter to the deputy's home for "movie nights." She also agreed to let the 15-year-old spend the night at Best's home, unchaperoned, before the deputy and girl made a Saturday trip to Orlando.
In April, the mother testified, she found the text messages. She questioned Best. "He told me they were just B.S.-ing around."
She called the Sheriff's Office.
On May 11, 2011, detectives made a surprise visit to the mother's apartment. The girl admitted she'd had sex with Best in her bedroom only a couple of hours before. "I couldn't believe that we'd been caught," the girl testified. "I knew it was over when the detectives told me who they were."
They took her to a rape crisis center, where a nurse examiner found no evidence of sexual activity, no foreign bodily fluids or likely DNA.
Best's lawyers contended sex never happened. The texts only told of longing, said defense attorney Patrick Courtney.
The trial before Hillsborough Circuit Judge Chet Tharpe is expected to last until Friday.