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Man gets 15 years for sexual battery

Joe Cronin, the Homosassa man convicted of sexually battering a retarded woman, has been sentenced to serve a 15-year prison term.

It was the maximum penalty for Cronin, 60, who was found guilty last month of one count of sexual battery and one count of battery.

The trial, held Feb. 19, was unusual because the primary witness, the 20-year-old retarded woman, recorded her testimony on videotape, which meant she couldn't be cross-examined by defense attorneys. Circuit Judge Ric A. Howard approved the videotape, ruling the woman could not withstand the stress of a trial.

Defense attorney Mark Wing said the tape is one of several issues he and his partner, Jim Cummins, plan to question on appeal.

Cronin was arrested in September 2000 after the woman told a teacher at the CREST school that Cronin had been sexually abusing her. The name of the woman has been withheld by the Times due to the nature of the crime.

Shortly after his arrest, Cronin gave a taped interview to Citrus County sheriff's detective Ed Gough in which he said the woman was the sexual aggressor.

Cronin said she would sneak into his mobile home, take off her clothes and attempt to force his hands to her genitals.

Several jurors expressed frustration after the trial, saying the two videotapes were difficult to follow at times. The woman's speech on the videotape was frequently garbled or slurred. And the taped interview with Cronin was of such poor quality the jurors had to listen for more than three hours during their deliberations to decipher the words.

At one point it was even unclear whether the correct man had been charged. The woman told Violet Poetter, a clinical psychologist who examined her at the prosecution's request, that her neighbor "Mr. Cronin" had never hurt her, but she hated "Joe," the man who abused her.

The jury's verdict was equally baffling to attorneys. Cronin had been charged with five counts of sexual battery on a mentally disabled person. But the jury convicted him on one count of sexual battery and one count of battery, and acquitted him of the rest.

_ Crime reporter Carrie Johnson can be reached at 860-7309 or cjohnsonsptimes.com.

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