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Jurors acquit man of rape

A man accused of raping a 16-year-old girl took the stand in his own defense Friday to say he had done something stupid last year but it wasn't a crime.

Freddie Ray Bruce, 21, told jurors he had just gotten out of a movie and was walking home when he bumped into the girl near the Shell gas station at State Road 44 and Croft Road in the early morning of July 6, 2002.

She struck up a conversation, Bruce testified, and in short order asked him if he wanted to have sex. The two had never seen each other before, he said, but they walked into woods nearby and had oral sex and sexual intercourse.

He was a little nervous, he testified, because "I really didn't know her."

The jury _ two men and four women _ believed his version of events. After only an hour of deliberation, jurors found Bruce not guilty on all three counts.

He would have faced up to 15 years in prison for each count if convicted. The state does not have the option to appeal the verdict.

Unless he posts bail, Bruce will remain in jail for an unrelated burglary charge.

The second full day of Bruce's trial included testimony from the detective who investigated the case, a DNA analyst and the man charged with three counts of sexual battery.

According to the Citrus County Sheriff's Office, Bruce, then 19, forced the girl into the woods, raped her and then was chased to the Wal-Mart across the street after being spotted by the girl's friend. Store employees held him there until deputies arrived on the scene about 2 a.m.

The Times is withholding the girl's name because of the nature of the incident.

About 6 a.m., Detective Michael Baute interviewed Bruce at the Sheriff's Office. A taped recording of their conversation was played in court Friday. On it, Bruce first denied the three allegations of sexual battery and then changed his story when the detective pressed him.

"Yes, I done something stupid," Bruce said on the tape.

He remembered the girl saying she was scared. She screamed, he told the detective.

Defense attorney Jim Cummins questioned why Baute continued with his interrogation after Bruce explained that he had blacked out some of the events and wasn't sure if he was telling the truth. Cummins said his client suffered a head injury after being thrown from a speeding truck in 1999 and had "diminished capacity" of memory.

He also questioned why the detective's second interview with Bruce, which occurred at the Citrus County jail, wasn't also taped. Baute said Bruce admitted during that interview that he had engaged in sexual intercourse with the girl.

Later, when a Florida Department of Law Enforcement crime lab analyst said the semen stains on the girl's shirt matched Bruce's DNA, Cummins reiterated his argument that the sex between the two teenagers had been consensual.

The girl was lying, he said. And, Cummins said, she was the only one other than Bruce who really knew what happened that night. He asked jurors to examine what he framed as inconsistencies in the girl's testimony given Thursday.

"The details matter because you have to determine her credibility," he said. "She shouldn't have forgotten things if they really happened."

Assistant State Attorney Milan "Bo" Samargya argued that it was Bruce whom jurors should doubt. The man already had one crime of dishonesty against him; he was convicted last year of petty theft.

According to FDLE records, he also tried to escape from jail in April.

The Inverness man said on the stand that Baute had threatened him before the tape was turned on for the first interview. The detective, Bruce testified, placed his gun on the table between them.

"He influenced me," Bruce testified.

Baute was recalled to the stand. He denied threatening the young man and explained it was agency policy not to bring any weapons into an interview room.

"It would have been in my desk drawer," he testified.

During his closing argument, Samargya asked jurors to remember that the girl had run from the woods without retrieving her underwear or shoes because she was so scared. He showed them pictures of bruises and scratches he said came from that early morning encounter.

"You don't go in the woods to have consensual sex . . . and then when it's time to leave, you leave your shoes and underwear in the woods," he said.

If the young woman, now 18, couldn't recount every detail exactly as she had during previous interviews, Samargya said, it was because "there is no normal reaction to an abnormal situation."

Not so for Bruce, the assistant state attorney argued. The morning of the incident, Bruce blamed a "blackout" for his inability to recall all the details of what happened.

"It's very interesting how the blackout cleared up today," Samargya said.

Cummins noted a different irony in his closing argument. "Her statement is inaccurate all the way through," he said.

_ Colleen Jenkins can be reached at 860-7303 or cjenkinssptimes.com.

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