Clearwater man serving life in child sex case gets new trial

Henry Keith Cavaliere, 50, will remain in prison until his case is retried.
Henry Keith Cavaliere, 50, will remain in prison until his case is retried.
Published Sept. 21, 2014

CLEARWATER — Henry Keith Cavaliere has been accused repeatedly of sex crimes against children and seems to have nine lives in the legal system.

The 50-year-old former Clearwater contractor was arrested four times between 1995 and 2009, accused of sexual battery, lewd assault, sexual performance by a minor and other crimes. Twice he faced charges that could have given him a life sentence. Yet he had never been to prison, or included on state sex offender databases.

But then he was arrested in 2012, and ultimately convicted of lewd and lascivious molestation. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Case closed. Except for one thing.

This summer, Florida's 2nd District Court of Appeal said Cavaliere should get a new trial because of information that should not have been allowed at his trial.

The Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office is prepared to try Cavaliere again.

"No question," said Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett. A date has not yet been set, and Cavaliere will remain in prison until he is retried.

Cavaliere's many journeys through the legal system do not necessarily point to any single failure of the system, but rather the difficulties of gaining convictions in cases with child victims.

In Cavaliere's most recent case, the prosecution had serious obstacles. A 12-year-old girl testified about molestation she said happened when she was 7, and two adult women testified that Cavaliere molested them when they were 6 and 9, respectively.

But there was no physical evidence.

During the trial, two people backed the credibility of the 12-year-old girl who testified against Cavaliere. One was a sheriff's detective, who vouched for the victim by saying he observed her mannerisms and noted he was trained in "kinesics."

Kinesics is a system of observing body language and facial expressions to determine whether someone is lying. Some Pinellas sheriff's deputies receive training in kinesics, and the office considers it a useful investigative tool, said spokeswoman Cecilia Barreda.

The detective described the practice during trial by saying "kinesics is basically you're a parent and you know your child did something wrong, you could read it. You could look at him and say, 'John, you took the cookie out of the cookie jar.' "

The appeals court did not raise any objections to kinesics, per se.

But the court did say that it is jurors, not witnesses, who should determine whether a witness is credible or not.

In this case, the detective's comments had the effect of "usurping the jury's role," the appeals court said. It said the same about testimony from the girl's teacher.

Also, the appeals court noted that the victim in the case shared her story after watching a video about a child predator with her mother. The jury also watched part of this video. But the appeals court said this should not have been allowed, because the video depicted a different kind of sexual crime and had the potential to prejudice the jury without providing real information about what actually happened. "The prejudice and risk of confusion of the issues was great," the court said.

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Stetson University College of Law professor Bruce Jacob read the appeal at the request of the Tampa Bay Times, and said he's not surprised the court ordered a new trial.

"It ought to be up to the jury to decide whether a person is truthful or not. That's the job of the jury," he said. He also said he had never heard of kinesics. "Is it really reliable, is it accurate?" he said.

Contact Curtis Krueger at or (727) 892-8232. Follow @ckruegertimes.