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Sexual abuse allegations end in mistrial in Salem
The prosecutor said she had not decided whether to seek a retrial against Stephen Lee Riddick.
Stephen Lee Riddick
Friday, March 15, 2013
The trial of a Salem man on charges he sexually abused two young sisters a year and a half ago ended in a hung jury Friday evening.
Stephen Lee Riddick, 52, was on trial for two counts of aggravated sexual battery and one count of indecent exposure, a misdemeanor.
In an unusual instance of such charges coming to trial - many end in pleas of guilty or no contest - the jury of nine women and three men heard testimony starting about 1 p.m. Thursday. They deliberated five hours Friday, from about noon until about 5 p.m., before informing Circuit Judge William Broadhurst they were unable to reach a unanimous verdict. Broadhurst declared a mistrial.
Salem Chief Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Marshall Harrell said she had not decided whether her office would seek to retry Riddick.
The charges against Riddick stem from incidents alleged to have happened between July 2, 2011, and Jan. 20, 2012, at the home of a relative of the girls who was a frequent caretaker of Riddick's accusers.
The relative is not being named to avoid revealing the identities of the girls, in accordance with the policy of The Roanoke Times.
In a largely he said/she said case, jurors were left to sort out what happened almost solely from the conflicting accounts of the victims, now ages 9 and 7, and Riddick, the last witness to take the stand Friday.
The older girl told of being left in the house one day with Riddick and her younger sister - they were ages 8 and 6 at the time - while another family that shared the house was upstairs. She was sitting on Riddick's lap to watch TV when Riddick put some lotion from a pink bottle on his hand and rubbed it on her belly, she testified. Then he unbuttoned her pants and rubbed on her skin under her underpants and eventually what she called her "private parts." She described the assault in court, adding that "it hurt."
Her sister testified how on another occasion she was sitting on Riddick's lap and he opened his pants and exposed himself and asked her to touch him, which she said she did.
Asked on the stand if he had ever touched the girls inappropriately, Riddick made an emotional denial.
"Never. I would never in my life dream of doing that," he said, his voice cracking as he tried not to sob.
Riddick's attorney, Jack Gregory, put on multiple witnesses to emphasize the character of the Army veteran from the Hampton Roads area who works as a cook at a local chain restaurant. They included his daughter, his ex-wife and a close friend.
Meanwhile, Gregory attempted to impeach the credibility of the victims, pointing out inconsistencies in their statements, especially concerning the timing of the incidents.
He called the relative they were visiting when they say they were molested, a frequent caretaker, to the stand and asked her about the girls' veracity.
They're "like average children. They don't always tell the truth about everything," she said. "They'll give their version."
Harrell, the prosecutor, seized on that in her closing argument, saying the defense's own witness confirmed they don't deceive more than most kids.
While their stories had minor inconsistencies, Harrell said, "The important facts are the ones that didn't change."
Riddick also testified to having a "great relationship" with the girls. Harrell questioned why, if that was the case, would the girls have "such a horrible thing to say about" Riddick as their allegations.
Gregory also presented evidence that the older girl, prior to the allegations against Riddick, had told her mother of an incident when a boy on her church bus put his hand up her skirt.
"They knew what a 'bad touch' was and that they were supposed to tell" someone right away, Gregory said. "That didn't happen in this case."
The girls did ultimately tell their mother about what they said Riddick had done to them, and the mother called police on Jan. 20, 2011.
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