Michael Sullo spent seven months in jail waiting for trial on charges that he raped a woman who asked him for a ride.
He broke down in tears Thursday afternoon when a jury found him innocent on two counts of sexual battery stemming from the Nov. 12 incident. Sullo, 33, a father of three, had faced at least 15 years in prison if convicted. The jury deliberated for a half-hour before returning its verdict.
"This case should have never come to trial," said Jim Cummins, Sullo's attorney.
The accuser in the case, whose name the St. Petersburg Times is withholding because of the nature of the charges, admitted using crack cocaine the night she met Sullo. A companion, who also used the illegal drug, had been arrested that evening and left her stranded at a Dunnellon Circle K convenience store.
The woman, 36, told investigators that she asked Sullo for a ride to Floral City and that, once he had her in his truck, he said: "I'm doing you a favor. Now you do me one." She said he then forced her to perform sex acts with him before leaving her in an unfamiliar field in northern Citrus County.
But Cummins brought out several inconsistencies in the woman's tale to deputies and in her testimony during the trial. She gave different locations for where she met Sullo and initially denied having sex with another man that evening when asked to submit to a hospital rape test. The woman also gave varying accounts of how and why she got out of the truck and what happened after she got out.
Sullo testified during the one-day trial that the woman asked him for a ride and offered to have sex with him in exchange, the same account he gave investigators.
Assistant State Attorney Paul Norville told jurors that the woman's basic story line remained consistent: that Sullo forced her to have sex. And he asked jurors why the woman would make up accusations against a stranger for no reason.
Cummins' explanation: She was high on crack.
Norville said afterward that he knew that the woman's admitted crack use, and the inconsistency with details of the evening, would pose problems in winning a conviction. But he said he thought it was important to press on with the case.
"I really believed she didn't make up the story," Norville said.