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Jury: Tarpon Springs man not guilty of molesting girls

(ran SS edition of Metro & State)

A jury took less than 15 minutes on Thursday to decide that Herman Clary Jr. of Tarpon Springs was not guilty of molesting two teenage girls.

But if the evidence didn't convince a jury that he was guilty, it had already convinced a judge.

Last year, Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Brandt Downey sentenced Clary to 60 years in prison, deciding evidence showed that the same molestation charges amounted to a violation of probation. Clary was on probation for an earlier conviction.

This week's verdict after a one-day trial has no bearing on the judge's decision on the probation violation last year, though the acquittal means Clary won't face additional time in prison.

While a jury can convict a defendant only if it thinks evidence proves guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the standard is lower when a judge considers whether a defendant is guilty of violating probation.

So even though it is rare, defendants sometimes are acquitted of a charge only to be found to have violated their probation.

Jurors found Clary, who worked on a shrimp boat, not guilty of two counts of handling and fondling a child under 16 years old and two counts of lewd and lascivious molestation.

Prosecutors say that Clary, among other things, asked a 15-year-old girl to fondle him and gave her money, clothes and cigarettes in exchange for the acts. He also was accused of molesting a second teenager.

The teenagers' family knew about Clary's history of sex crimes against children. Even so, in 1995, the girl's parents asked a judge to allow their daughter and her siblings to see Clary without supervision and the request was granted, police said.

Because of the nature of his previous crimes, Clary would not have been allowed to have unsupervised contact with minors without special permission.

The request was made after the alleged abuse on the girl began, but her family did not know of the abuse at the time, police said.

At the time, Clary was serving 12 years of probation for five counts of lewd and lascivious behavior on children under age 16. In 1985, he was convicted of molesting a 3-year-old girl and two 10-year-old girls while babysitting them in Tarpon Springs.

In 1994, he was convicted of committing a sexual offense on a child and in 1997 was designated a sexual predator by a judge.

In May 2000, police charged one of Clary's neighbors, Maria Anna Simeon, 38, with child neglect, accusing her of leaving her 5-month-old boy in a pickup truck with Clary while she ran into a crack house to buy drugs. She told police she knew Clary was a sexual predator.