A lengthy cross-examination by a defense attorney of an alleged child molestation victim resulted in the 14-year-old girl, who suffers from cerebral palsy, regularly contradicting herself in the space of several minutes Tuesday in Glynn County Superior Court.
The ability to judge the girl’s statements, on the stand and in two recorded forensic examinations, was one of the reasons a jury was unable to return a verdict on the defendant, Leonard Bernard Palmitesto, in the first trial in the case in May.
Palmitesto, 63, is accused of five counts of child molestation, three counts of sexual battery to a child younger than 16 and one count of aggravated child molestation for alleged acts committed against the girl in July and August 2016.
The acts are supposed to have occurred when the girl was alone with Palmitesto at his residence near Canal Crossing, while the girl’s mother attended addiction counseling meetings as part of a drug court sentence.
The girl’s sister, who is 16, testified that the allegations came about in full one evening, when the alleged victim came to her appearing “wide-eyed” and “panicked” while the sister was brushing her teeth. The sister said the alleged victim told her, and minutes later told her, her father and paternal grandmother, that Palmitesto kissed and touched the alleged victim in inappropriate places.
During this second retelling, the sister transcribed the allegations on a piece of paper, which subsequently was entered into evidence.
Palmitesto’s attorney, Kevin Gough, suggested during cross-examination of the sister that she coached the alleged victim through the allegations not only during that evening, but throughout the investigation for a number of reasons, including wanting to make sure they did not have to continue visitations with her mother, who was dating Palmitesto.
The sister was also unable to positively identify Palmitesto in the courtroom, though she noted more than once that the last time she saw him outside of court was during a trip to Summer Waves on Jekyll Island in August 2016.
During cross-examination, the sister said the alleged victim is at times overly affectionate to the point of inappropriateness, and may not know the difference between good touching and bad touching.
As in the first trial, the jury watched both forensic interviews — one conducted Aug. 17, 2016, and the other April 18, 2017 — between the alleged victim and LaTanya Roberts, program director at Safe Harbor. In both interviews, the alleged victim gave relatively consistent statements about what Palmitesto allegedly did, and in detail.
At press time Tuesday, the mother of a second alleged victim was on the stand, speaking to what she said she saw in November 2015 at her residence between her then-19-year-old, intellectually disabled daughter and Palmitesto. The mother of the second alleged victim said she did not go to police at the time, but approached investigators following newspaper reports of the first trial earlier this year. There are no criminal charges pending regarding those allegations.
She said that while she and Palmitesto were not dating, they were friendly, and that day he was at her residence, waiting to go to eat, while she took a shower after getting off work. The mother of the second alleged victim said after her shower, she walked into the kitchen to see Palmitesto engaging in inappropriate contact with her daughter.
The second alleged victim was also slated to take the stand before court recessed for the evening. Prosecutors are set to continue their case this morning, wrapping up sometime before the lunch break.