Jury Finds Palm Coast’s John Schenone, 32, Guilty of Raping Girlfriend’s 11-Year-Old Daughter; Will Spend Life in Prison
FlaglerLive | February 22, 2017
The turning point happened the morning of June 28, 2015, in the W-Section home the family had lived in for years. John Schenone had been part of that family for six years. He was 31 at the time. He’d assumed the role of father to his live-in girlfriend’s three young children—two girls and a boy. The family, and the two parents especially, habitually stayed up late, going to bed in early morning hours.
That morning the children’s mother would discover that her middle child, who had just turned 11, had been raped by Schenone moments before she’d realized he was with her, behind a locked door, for inexplicable reasons. He claimed he was there to take care of the girl’s hamster, though it was 4 a.m. He then claimed he was there to clean her up, because she’d supposedly had a problem with hygiene after using the bathroom.
The girl herself, however, would tell her mother that the man she’d referred to as her “step-dad” had been in there “licking my private parts,” as she’d put it in painfully detailed testimony in court this morning. (She held a stuffed animal in her hand, out of view, a tiny turtle, for comfort, as Schenone alternately stared at her from his table a few feet away, and took notes.)
Her mother would soon find out that the rapes had been taking place for the past year, starting around the time of the girl’s first period when she’d just turned 10: it was around then that the girl could remember the assaults beginning—in her bedroom, in the bathroom, always starting with him taking baby wipes to her genitals.
Wednesday evening, after deliberating 80 minutes, a jury of five women and one man found John Schenone guilty of raping a child younger than 12, and guilty on two counts of lewd and lascivious molestation by an adult. He was immediately sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Schenone had stood and listened to the verdict stern-faced, then he broke down as he sat, at times clutching his head in his hand, crying, clenching his jaw, as a bailiff stood behind him, the sound of handcuffs jangling briefly as the bailiff took them out in preparation. They would not go on until immediately after the actual sentencing, which the judge and the lawyers prepared through agonizingly pedestrian calculations.
The victim and her family, sitting on the first bench behind the courtroom, had waited through the 80 minutes of deliberations, had held hands as the jury verdict was read, and then cried.
“I sentence you to life in prison without the possibility of parole,” the judge told him, as Schenone was asked to stand in front of him, making the sentence for the additional charge, just under 10 years, irrelevant. He was handcuffed at 6:16 p.m.
The one-day trial was the culmination of a strange and snaky road Schenone himself had taken after his arrest a year and a half ago, navigating pre-trials all the way up to the eve of his actual trial to find various avenues of delays including, at one point—and with no evidence—calling his public defender ”incompetent.” It won him another delay, as his next-appointed attorney, Randall Richardson, had to catch up and finally settle on today’s trial date.
It was an unusually brief trial. The witness list was short: just three witnesses for the prosecution—the girl, now 12, her mother, and a state crime-lab analyst. The defense had just one witness: Schenone, who told the judge he’d decided to testify after the prosecution rested.
The decision did not help his case. His own attorney called his testimony “random,” “weird,” “strange.” And that was part of Richardson’s closing argument. The prosecutor called it “rambling” and “non-responsive.”
It was worse than that. Moments after Schenone took the stand his testimony took two steps that likely lost whatever chance he had to win over the jury. First, immediately after his attorney asked him what his relationship was like with the three children—a softball opening that gave him the chance to portray himself at length as the caring father even his ex-girlfriend had described—he curtly, dourly described it as “excellent,” as if even that had been a burden, then immediately started describing the victim as the sister of a twin who died, and who was “a little bit slower,” who had “difficulties keeping up,” who had trouble wiping her behind, in succession.
The characterization had nothing to do with the question about his relationship with the children. But it hinted, whether intentionally or not, at his recurring attempts to shift attention, if not blame, from himself to the girl—to the victim. It is almost certain that the jury saw through the maneuver.
Moments later Schenone compounded the problem, almost causing a mistrial by pulling what can best be described as a fast one: he directly alluded to an allegation of sexual impropriety between the victim and her brother, even though he’d not been asked about it, even though he’d been told not to raise those allegations, since the defense considers them irrelevant to the present case, with case law to back that up. Schenone was doing what he’d done in his interviews with detectives: he was not answering the questions he was being asked but answering what he wished, creating an alternate reality that seemed to create a rationale for his actions, however irrational his statements, and not-so subtly shifting blame.
The jury was immediately directed to the jury room so Circuit Judge Dennis Craig and the lawyers– Assistant State Attorney Joe LeDonne, and for the defense, Richardson and Kimberly Lambros—could sort out the mess Schenone had created. Schenone kept his seat in the witness box, his expression as implacable as it had been throughout the morning. LeDonne considered calling for a mistrial but pulled back, asking instead that the judge admonish Schenone, and that Richardson’s attorney counsel his client against making any further such statements. Richardson did so, bringing Schenone back to his seat for several minutes before sending him back to the witness box. The jury was invited back in.
Schenone didn’t quite get the message. He again made several statements that touched on the same allegation (though by then his lawyer had disposed of the issue by directly asking him about it, within strict bounds), going on to make allegations about the children’s mother as well, and making further claims about the children’s medical issues, though there was no connection between those alleged issues and the case at hand, let alone any evidence that there had been any medical issues.
Schenone stuck to his claim that he’d never assaulted or molested the child, but rather was for a year—ever since she’d had her first period–concerned about her alleged inability to clean herself properly after using the bathroom.
He had not explained why his girlfriend had smelled the arresting odor of “vaginal fluid” on his face when she had kissed him that morning, moments after he’d come out of her daughter’s room. He had not explained why there was a mixture of DNA in her daughter’s underwear that analysts connected to Schenone. He had not explained why he’d never told his girlfriend, for a year, about the girl’s alleged issue with hygiene. He had not explained why he had never taken the girl to a doctor, or talked to his girlfriend about taking the girl to a doctor, if there’d been an issue with hygiene. He had not explained why his ex-girlfriend herself had never smelled or detected any issues with her daughter’s hygiene.
In a rare but permissible move from a jury, a juror passed a question to the judge that pointed to its astute observations—and the hollowness of Schenone’s testimony: the juror wanted to know if there was any documented medical evidence of the issues Schenone had been claiming. Schenone said there was none.
The girl’s mother, when she was on the stand, had been adamant that had there been an issue, it would not have been her place to address it physically.
“absolutely not,” the girl’s mother had said. Her daughter was old enough, she had gone through puberty, she would leave her to take care of it, with a mother’s counsel, but not more.
“Did you give anyone else authorization to do that?” LeDonne asked her.
Were there ever smell issues?
Did Schenone ever say there was such an issue?
Did her ever say there was a medical issue?
Did he ever take her to the doctor?
The mother had been brought back for a second round in the witness chair after Schenone’s testimony, and her responses hammered at his claims, one after the other, sealing the case against him, so that even his claim (undisputed, and repeatedly mentioned by his attorney) that the girl’s mother had had sex with him that very morning, after the mother had found out about the rape, was disarmed by the mother’s explanation: she did not want to change their routines and alert him that something had gone awry until she’d had a chance to go to the police hours later.
The dearth of witnesses was surprising: there was evidence the prosecution could have sought out, from detectives, from the Children’s Protection Team, from Schenone’s own rambling interview with detectives, even from controlled phone calls recorded by detectives in which Schenone, according to his arrest report, admits to the assaults. “Fine, yes, I did,” he’d told the child’s mother in one of those calls, and said he would “take responsibility for it.” In a second such call, he said: “I’ll tell you the truth, I did,” adding, “I did it three times… I licked her butt and I licked her vagina but I didn’t do that other thing.”
“That other thing” being other accusations that he rubbed his penis between the girl’s butt cheeks repeatedly, which resulted in the two additional charges of lewd and lascivious molestation. He was found guilty on one of the two additional charges.
By the time Judge Craig was reading the jury instructions, mother and child, accompanied by the mother’s boyfriend, had returned to the courtroom, along with a victim’s advocate, to see the outcome of the trial.