After almost four hours of deliberation, Larry Staton was found not guilty by a six-man, six-woman jury on two charges of indecency with a child — one by contact, a second degree felony and the other by exposure, a third-degree felony — on Wednesday, July 11, 2012 in the 32nd Judicial District Court.
Staton was on trial following his indictment of the two charges that stated the offenses occurred on or around Sept. 1, 2010, to a child younger than 17 years of age.
Beginning on Tuesday afternoon, the entire trial included four testimonies — from Sweetwater Police Department (SPD) Detective Sam Cunningham, the victim, the victim's mother — who had been in a three-year relationship with the defendant, and Staton himself.
Cunningham opened the state's testimonies on Tuesday, stating that he had been forwarded the case, in which he followed up with interviews and investigations. He was also present for the interview conducted by the West Texas Children's Advocacy Center (WTCAC).
The detective noted to both the state and defense that the victim's mother appeared to not care at times and he noted minor inconsistencies in her story. He observed that in Staton's interview, the defendant was changing his story which indicated deception.
Additionally, Cunningham pointed out that the mother didn't come forward with the charges--for around two-and-a-half months--for fear of losing her children and dependability on Staton for her finances and use of his car.
The victim also took the stand on Tuesday as well as Wednesday morning. He told Assistant District Attorney Barrett Thomas that while his mother and sister lived together, he lived home alone.
He initially liked and trusted Staton, but lost that trust and relationship following the incident.
The victim recounted what took place, how he woke up that night to find his pants partially down and Staton standing above him. The defendant then touched the victim inappropriately, while Staton also took part in self-sexual conduct.
The victim testified that Staton got on the floor but then the activity stopped when the victim's mother intervened.
When asked about his mother's reaction to the incident, the victim said she didn't react quickly and almost didn't believe him. Action was taken only after the victim's uncle was informed, who then reported it to the authorities.
On Wednesday morning, the state continued their case with the victim on the stand, as the video from the interview conducted by the West Texas Children's Advocacy Center (WTCAC) was played to the jury.
Several questions regarding the victim's personal interests and family background were asked by WTCAC personnel, which led to the questioning regarding Staton. The victim then recounted the sexual contact made by Staton, in which the victim was asked to take his pants down and remain quiet.
Also noted in the recollection was the location of Staton during the incident and the events that followed, including the interaction that took place between his mother and Staton.
The victim was also asked about his living situation between his mother and the defendant. The edited video lasted around 30 minutes.
Following the film, the victim was briefly cross-examined by defense attorney Jeff Allen. He told the defense that his pants were only pulled down and were not entirely off during the act.
Assistant District Attorney Barrett Thomas also questioned the victim on if he had clearly seen Staton, but told him that he was the only man around and knew he had been touched by the defendant.
In trying to clarify whether his pants were down or off, the victim told the state that in his attempt to avoid and completely forget the incident, some of the details might have been forgotten. The video interview would be a more accurate description of the incident since it was taped a few months after the incident.
The victim's mother then took the stand, and was actually called by both the state and defense. She said that she dated Staton for around three-and-a-half years; during their time together, her son would occasionally stay at her house alone.
On the night in question, the mother testified that she was awakened by sounds in the back bedroom. She and her daughter were sleeping on the bed, while the victim was sleeping on a dresser.
When she woke up, she saw Staton — who was the only man who could have been there — standing at the front of the dresser. She said that she heard the defendant taking part in self-sexual activity and recognized the sound from past instances.
The victim's mother asked Staton what he was doing, to which he replied he hadn't done anything. Her son then told her what happened, but she said that she didn't do anything initially for fear of losing her children or finances from Staton. She added that she still does, however, depend on Staton for money.
In cross-examination, she told the defense that while she heard and saw Staton, she never saw him touch her son. Staton told her that the noise came from him running into a wall while heading to the bathroom.
The police were only notified of the incident after her brother was informed and called the station. Then she spoke with an officer about the incident.
On that night, the mother noted, she had been drinking a little bit of alcohol. She also stated that until two days prior to the trial, she had continued her relationship with Staton.
She also told the state that it was around 2 a.m. when she woke. While she had been drinking that night, she also had a drug dependency problem on prescription drugs. However, she knew what she heard and knew it was Staton.
The mother also testified that her children are no longer living with her and she is no longer dependent on Staton for his car, but still obtains money from him. Since she no longer has her children — when asked if she could have been more forthright, she said she could have been more open and regretted not coming forward sooner.
Around 11:30 a.m., the state then rested their case. Following a lunch recess, the defense began their testimony, calling the victim's mother back on the stand.
An excerpt of a recording was played to the jury of a conversation she had with an officer, which pointed out that she didn't report the incident for almost two-and-a-half months.
She was also questioned about her location the night of the incident; she initially said she was in another room, to which the defense said she wasn't forthright and didn't tell the truth.
In cross-examination by the state, the mother said she had been interviewed twice by authorities. In one instance, she said that she witnessed the incident, while in the other she denied seeing anything.
Though she had problems with drugs and other reasons not to go to the police, in the end her story was consistent. She said that she saw Staton in some type of sexual activity on the night in question.
Staton then took the stand for the defense, recalling how he met the victim's mother — after the death of his third wife — and helped her and her family financially. In turn, she helped him take care of his house.
The defendant said that he loved her two children as if they were his own and gave them money and took them swimming, fishing and spent holidays with them. Because he tried to be a father to them, Staton said that he did not and would not expose himself or molest any child.
He said he remembered that night because the victim was sleeping on the dresser, which wasn't normal. He also noted that he asked the mother why her son was sleeping on there. Typically, she would sleep with Staton.
Staton said he saw the boy on the dresser on the way to the bathroom. Thereafter, he went to the living room to watch college football, then went to the bathroom again before going to bed. The next morning, he was asked about what occurred the night before.
He noted that he headed to the police station because he was asked by the police department. He recalled that he saw the victim on the dresser around 10 or 11 p.m. However, in his interview with Detective Cunningham, he said he saw the boy the next day.
The jury was shown a brief portion of the interview, which pointed out the inconsistencies by Staton to which he testified that he never changed his story. He also told the state that even though two witnesses said the time in question was around 2 a.m., they were lying.
Once again, during his questioning by the defense, he said that he didn't or wouldn't do such an act and didn't touch the boy at all. He said that he was scared while talking to the detective because he had heard rumors, but felt like he had to protect himself. The state, in turn, noted that he was trying to protect himself by not telling the entire story.
The defense rested their case shortly after 2 p.m. The state then offered a rebuttal witness, SPD Detective Cunningham, to discuss the statement Staton gave to him. In dealing with the defendant, Cunningham stated that he gave him his required rights and took extra precaution to ensure that Staton heard and understood him.
Cunningham said he never threatened him, but during the interview the detective felt that there was more to the story than what Staton was sharing.
With the testimonies wrapped up and both sides resting their cases, presiding judge Don L. Jarvis read the charge to the jury around 3:10 p.m., prior to both sides giving their final arguments.
An emotional closing argument was given by ADA Thomas, calling the case sad, yet serious which would determine the defendant's freedom or the victim's life by the verdict.
The victim's mother regrets and lifestyle of drugs and alcohol abuse, along with the way she cared for her kids was presented. She believed that she would not only lose her kids but her dependability on Staton if she told what she saw.
As a result of staying silent, she paid the price as her children are no longer under her care. However, she found motivation to testify and maintained her story, in contrast to Staton who changed his story to protect himself.
The case is simply about the victim, who recalled the story in his video interview in an innocent manner. The state also reviewed the two charges they must prove; while pieces of the puzzle were missing, the picture pointed out Staton's guilt.
The defense then gave their final closing argument, pointing out the state has to meet their high burden of proof. Allen put himself in the mother's situation, that he would have stopped the incident, found help and stopped living with the person responsible — all things the victim's mother failed to do.
She didn't tell the truth at the beginning and was deceptive and untrustworthy. The victim's testimony was also questioned in the inconsistencies to which he testified.
The defense said that the inconsistencies undermined the credibility. On the other hand, while hesitant, Staton took the stand and said he didn't commit the act.
His client, said Allen, believed in the fairness of the jury and the state did not meet the burden of proof.
In his final argument, ADA Thomas noted that the picture of inconsistencies regarded Staton and the victim's mother. However, the case was not about them, but about the victim.
The victim's mother wasn't a very good mom, but the victim had no reason to lie and was legally unable to consent. The victim and his family drove 16 hours to tell his story, proof that he was courageous enough to tell his story and be honest.
Around 3:50 p.m., the jury then began their deliberations.