Thursday, September 30, 2010

Jury acquits man in costume of flashing large fake penis

A jury on Friday acquitted a 22-year-old man accused of exposing himself in front of a school bus filled with DeLand High School honour students, finding the act was a prank gone wrong. James Richmond did not expose his genitals as police, prosecutors and angry parents said he did, the jury found. Instead, he used a Halloween costume that featured a large fake penis he said was intended to get a laugh. It was a joke no one found funny. Richmond, an engaged utility worker from Sanford, erupted in tears of joy when the verdict was announced. He faced 30 years in prison if convicted of lewd and lascivious exposure in front of the two 14-year-old boys who saw what they thought was a real penis. Richmond, who was arrested in November 2008, also faced being labelled a sex offender for the rest of his life.

"We are thrilled," defence lawyer Aaron Delgado said after the not-guilty verdict was announced in Circuit Judge James Clayton's courtroom. Prosecutor Ryan Will opened his case Thursday by telling the jury of three women and three men that the evidence would show Richmond to be "a sexual deviant." Will said that between Nov. 3 and Nov. 17, Richmond repeatedly drove past the DeLand High School bus on its route in DeBary. "He would expose himself to the people on the bus," Will said. "And he would masturbate for his own gratification." An appellate court earlier this year ruled it was legal for a Hernando County man to put a sex toy "resembling a penis" into his mouth in front of a 7-year-old child.

With that precedent in mind, prosecutor Will conceded that in order for Richmond to be convicted of a crime, he would have to prove the two boys saw a real penis. The boys, whose names are not being published because of the nature of the crime, were among 50 high-achieving students who were on the bus for DeLand High's International Baccalaureate and engineering programs. Each of the two boys testified that on more than one occasion, they saw the man in the dark Volkswagon Jetta drive up and appear smiling and rubbing his genitals. Will criticized the defense lawyers' story that Richmond was simply using a costume he'd worn to Halloween parties as a joke. The defence lawyers showed jurors pictures snapped of Richmond wearing the costume - given to him by a co-worker who said it was made by a 90-year-old woman - weeks before his arrest.

"Just because Mr. Richmond owns a device that appears to be real," Will said. "There is zero evidence that the costume was in the car." The boys, Will said, were outraged by Richmond's act, and wanted to see him punished. During his closing argument, Will asked the jury "not to laugh at Richmond's joke." Delgado reinforced the key thought that led to the jury's decision. Richmond, he said, was guilty of nothing more than a bad joke. "We have the Halloween costume; we have testimony that Jim got a lot of attention wearing it at Halloween parties," Delgado said. "No one is laughing; it's clearly not funny."

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