Saturday, August 29, 2009

He'll be judged by a different tribunal now

Well, I guess he couldn't wait for the jury's verdict which acquitted him.

What a tragedy all around for everyone.

The victim and his survivors.

Accused in sex case not guilty, kills himself
By Chad Smith - St.

Shortly after the jury gave its verdict in the case of William Telano Evans on Thursday afternoon, it was clear something was wrong.

In the courthouse hallway, Evans' wife, Peggy, used her cell phone to call her husband, who hadn't returned to court after lunch to hear the verdict.

"They found you not guilty," she said. "Please, please don't do anything."

He never got the message.

Minutes before the jury came into the courtroom around 3:45 p.m., Peggy Evans stood alone in the hallway, hunched over a railing, sobbing.

Then, a few minutes later, the bailiff announced that the jury had reached a verdict on the charge against Evans, 57, a lifelong St. Augustine resident accused of sexually abusing a girl nearly three decades ago.

Evans' attorney, Curtis Fallgatter of Jacksonville, looked around the courthouse for his client, then called to tell him to return to court.

About 20 minutes passed before Circuit Court Judge J. Michael Traynor decided to bring the jury into the courtroom to announce its verdict without Evans.

The jury forewoman passed the decision to the bailiff, who then passed it to the judge, who gave it to the clerk.

She read through the case number, the charge, then the verdict: "Not guilty."

The case came down to not whether Evans had sexually abused the victim, but when.

Under the law, there is no statute of limitations on sexual battery on a victim younger than 12.

Specifically, Evans was charged with sexual battery between the summer of 1980 and Jan. 14, 1983, the day before his accuser turned 12.

If the victim had been 12 or older at the time, the charge would have been lewd and lascivious behavior. And for that offense, the statute of limitations had expired.

The victim, now 38 and living in Virginia, testified that she was in the second grade when she was first abused, making her about 9 or 10.

But the defense argued that she told investigators she remembered it starting around the time her mother had breast-implant surgery in November 1984, when she was 13.

The jury found that there was not enough compelling evidence of her age at the time of the abuse and found Evans not guilty.

The victim's mouth dropped as she heard verdict. She turned to her husband, and asked, "Not guilty?"

After the jurors gave their verdict, the judge thanked them for their service and dismissed them. Shortly afterward, a deputy accompanied them to the elevators. After the jurors were gone, a woman, friend of the victim, walked by Peggy Evans and said, "You next."

The deputy yelled at her and the woman walked away.

After the ruling, Peggy Evans passed by the victim, seated with a victim's advocate, the victim's husband and a childhood friend.

Peggy Evans tilted her head and gave the four a mocking smile. The four looked as each other, and the victim asked them, "Did you see that?"

Mrs. Evans walked out of the courtroom, then returned seconds later to hear the judge order deputies to find Evans and bring him to court.

A couple of minutes later, a bailiff told the judge that Evans' truck was at his house but there was no answer at the door.

Traynor said they could force entry if need be.

"Can you tell them to not let my dog out?" Peggy Evans asked half-jokingly before leaving the courtroom.

About 10 minutes passed, during which the judge said he was considering holding the defendant in contempt of court, when a group of bailiffs barged in and approached the bench.

"Dead body," one said.

"Dead body?" the judge asked.

Deputies arrived at the Evans' home on Stokes Landing Road at 3:55 p.m., just as a 911 call came in from the residence.

Relatives had gone to the house to tell Evans he needed to go back to the courthouse. Instead, they found him dead at the rear of the house.

Fallgatter, the attorney, and family members stood around the yard along with scores of deputies and investigators.

Teary-eyed, Fallgatter said he had eaten lunch with Evans at the cafeteria in the tax collector's office after the court recessed for deliberation.

Evans made no indication he was going to kill himself, Fallgatter said.

But, he said, the five-year legal process had beaten his client down and he couldn't handle spending the rest of life in prison, the rest of his life away from Peggy Evans.

"She's a loyal wife, and she'd stay with him for 25 years if he lived that long. But he wasn't going to do that to her," Fallgatter said. "I just wish he'd talked to me first."

St. Johns County Sheriff's Office spokesman Sgt. Chuck Mulligan said at the scene that Evans died from a gunshot wound that was apparently self-inflicted. Mulligan said he did not know what kind of gun was used or whether Evans left any indication he was going to shoot himself.

The prosecutor, Assistant State Attorney Dennis Craig, declined to comment.

A statement from Assistant State Attorney Christopher Kelly said: "Regarding the events surrounding the trial of William Evans, we believe it is paramount to respect the privacy of the family at the present time. The events surrounding the trial and today had a profound effect on all involved. The facts of today's events are still being gathered and it would be premature to comment further." n

Prosecutor Craig had the last word in the trial, and his rebuttal left the five women and one man on the jury with the most damning evidence against Evans, the "apology letter" that he had apparently written to the victim as part of counseling, eight years before he was charged.

Evans' wife, daughter, son-in-law, sister and brother sat on the defense side of the courtroom and listened to Craig read the lurid details.

Peggy Evans hung her head.

The victim cried.

Evans jotted on a notepad, as he had done throughout most of the trial.

The letter, dated April 10, 1996, described how he was "overcome with selfish desires."

After several years of taking advantage of her nightly fear of what might happen and her youthful ignorance about sex, he promised to stop, according to the letter.

"For a while, I kept my promise."