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Appeals stall trial of mother accused of sexual abuse

(ran NS, S editions of B)

The trial of Kathleen Grego, a mother accused of sexually abusing her children, was postponed Tuesday because prosecutors are appealing judicial rulings in the case.

Meanwhile, her four children will remain in foster care _ where they've been for three years, waiting for a resolution of the cases against both parents.

Both their father, who is not identified, and Grego, who has gone public with claims that she and her ex-husband are falsely accused, are charged with four counts of capital sexual battery and could face life in prison if convicted.

Last week, Circuit Judge Bonnie S. Newton determined that the jury would not be allowed to hear statements her children made to HRS workers and police, because the manner of the interviews and statements themselves were not credible enough. She also decided that testimony of another of her children could not be used to show a pattern of abuse because that child's testimony was not proved to be relevant.

Assistant State Attorney Nick Mooney is appealing both decisions, saying that the judge used her own discretion rather than follow the "essential requirements of the law."

"The law's very clear in child sexual battery cases that testimony of other children is relevant to corroborate children's testimony," he said.

The law also is clear, he said, when it comes to child hearsay. Statements children give to other people often are used in court.

Newton also denied a defense motion to suppress statements Grego made to police before her arrest, which means the jury will hear police say Grego admitted some abuse of one child.

Grego's attorney said it was unfortunate that the trial was postponed again and will drag on.

"We feel the ruling was abundantly fair and correct," said attorney Joe McDermott of St. Petersburg Beach. "We're disappointed it's not going to trial. It's hanging over her head and we'd like to resolve it."

Officials with the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services were upset by the judge's ruling for a number of reasons: It called into question the credibility of the caseworker and the detective on the case, and an appeal leaves the children in limbo.

"We're horrified," said Elaine Fulton-Jones, HRS spokesperson. "It's a travesty that these children, who have been through so much already, have to wait."

Fulton-Jones said that HRS interviews with the children are vital, as are statements the children made to foster parents and police.

"That's critical and I don't know how it can be discounted," she said. "This is all very traumatic for the children. And the thing I don't see is a lot of compassion for children."

Jason Elliot of Victims of Child Abuse Laws, who is supporting Grego and her ex-husband's fight, sees the judge's decision as "courageous" and the appeal as costing taxpayers more money. "We feel it's detrimental and abusive to the children for (the state) to appeal," he said.