|Mon, Oct 20, 2014 10:12 PM
|Issue of October 15, 2014
February 12, 2014 | 08:37 AM
It took about three hours of deliberation for a jury of six men and five women to find Leo John Conley guilty of 20 counts of child molesting Monday night in Harrison Superior Court.
The counts — 19 Class A felony child molesting and one Class C felony child molesting — bring the minimum sentence Conley faces anywhere from 20 to more than 940 years in prison. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for March 13 at 4:30 p.m.
Conley (click for larger version)
The verdict came after nearly a week of testimony, some of which was delayed due to icy weather. The session on Feb. 4 ended early because of snow and ice, and last Wednesday was lost altogether due to poor road conditions, which also caused the Harrison County Sheriff's Dept. to have to use Humvees to pick up defense witnesses and jury members.
"The jury came back Monday evening and asked to listen to testimony of one of the victims, and, when they did that, I felt like it was moving in the right direction for us," Harrison County Prosecutor J. Otto Schalk said. "The next phase is the sentencing, and we're going to recommend that he get enough time to die in prison several times over."
On Thursday, the two victims' mothers, a convicted child molester, a polygraph examiner with the Indiana State Police and Lt. Nick Smith, a detective with the Harrison County Sheriff's Dept., all took the stand, mostly explaining to the jury about how the investigation into the allegations began.
The convicted child molester, Brandon Harley, testified how he allegedly overheard late one night Conley admitting to another inmate at the Harrison County Jail that he had molested the two girls.
On Friday, the victims, who are now 14 and 17, told the jury about multiple incidents that took place during the course of an eight-year period, including Conley touching the girls in their genital area, engaging in oral sex with them, showing the girls pornography and attempting to have anal sex with them, either with his penis or with a sex toy. They also said Conley told them they shouldn't tell anyone about the incidents.
The 14-year-old victim said she initially denied multiple times of being molested but eventually came out because she said she couldn't take the abuse any more.
"I wanted to quit lying to myself that it didn't happen," the girl said.
The girl, who is an A-B student, said school is her "escape."
Under cross examination, the girl was brought to tears by defense attorney Alan Roles, who asked her why she didn't initially tell anyone what was happening, asking if she knew the difference between right and wrong, or good touches and bad touches.
The 17-year-old said she first told a cousin about the abuse then told her mother. Contradicting testimony from the 14-year-old, the 17-year-old said she didn't remember ever seeing Conley bringing out any of the sex toys, including one that was entered as evidence as an item used against at least one of the girls. The item was tested for DNA, and it was found to contain the DNA of Conley's wife and a second DNA of an origin that could not be determined.
Under cross-examination, Roles asked the 17-year-old why her answers in court didn't match up exactly with answers given during a deposition a year ago and pointed out that lying in a deposition or in court could get her in trouble. The teen — and one of the jurors — broke down. The girl said to Roles, "I didn't write down every single thing he did to me."
Also on Friday, Conley, formerly of New Salisbury who moved to Rhodelia, Ky., after his wife kicked him out, took the stand in his own defense. Roles questioned Conley about each count and asked him how he answered to each charge.
Conley said "Not guilty" after each count was read. On the final count, Conley raised his voice and started to cry, saying, "I did not do that stuff. You don't know how much this has hurt me!"
When asked why the girls would fabricate a story about the abuse, Conley said one of the girls didn't like him because she was moody and going on her period, hated him because "she thought she could sing and I hid her Rock Band microphone from her" and the girl was jealous of Conley's relationship with his wife. Conley said he had no idea why the other teen would fabricate a story about the abuse.
"Maybe she was trying to help (the other teen) out," Conley said.
After the teens' testimony, Roles asked the court to give a directed verdict of acquittal on all charges due to the teens' testimony not matching up and the charges not being supported by the evidence.
Chief Deputy Prosecutor Nicholas Haverstock said testimony one of the teens gave that she'd been alone with Conley just a couple of times could have been defined as numerous times due to the number of visits to Conley's house during a seven-year period. The witnesses testified, Haverstock said, that they were at his home many times during a course of several years.
Harrison Superior Court Judge Roger D. Davis denied the motion.
"If anything, I think the testimony not matching up actually showed they were telling the truth," Schalk said. "If their stories about something that happened 10 years ago matched up exactly, it would be pretty remarkable. At the end of the day, human nature isn't going to lead someone to write in a journal, 'I got molested today.' I think the jury recognized that, and I also think the defense attacking the victims on the witness stand may have swayed the jury's opinion."
The trial was allowed to continue last week despite having one fewer juror than normal. The jury lost one member due to a jury member's child being sick, which brought the alternate juror to the box. Then, two days later, the father of another juror passed away. Since all parties agreed to continue with 11 jurors, the trial went on as usual.
Schalk thanked the Harrison County Sheriff's Dept. not only for driving witnesses and jurors to and from the Harrison County Justice Center, but also for their diligence in pursuing the case.
"The sheriff's department, and Nick Smith, probably played as big of a role in this case and deserves as much credit as the prosecutor," Schalk said.