A jury of four women and two men took barely half an hour late this morning to find Thomas Binkley, 62, guilty on two counts of molesting two girls, 6 and 8 at the time. Binkley was living with the girls. Their parents had taken him in because he’d fallen on hard times and was in poor health.
Sitting down when a clerk read the verdict, Binkley leaned in, then leaned back after hearing he’d been found guilty and barely shook his head before looking at the jury as its members were polled. The two victims are now 10 and 8. They had both testified, as they had to. They were not in the courtroom when the verdict was read.
Both counts are first-degree felonies with a maximum prison penalty of 30 years each, exposing Binkley to the equivalent of life in prison when he is sentenced on March 8 before Circuit Judge Terence Perkins, who presided over Binkley’s three-day trial.
The case dates back to a period between late 2014 and the summer of 2016, after Binkley had been welcomed into the home of a local family. The girls’ great grandmother became suspicious of wrongdoing when she noticed the younger girl masturbating. When she asked her where she’d learned to do that, the girl said from “Mr. Tommy.” The family intervened, the children were interviewed by the Child Protection Team, and further details emerged, leading to Binkley’s arrest in January 2017.
Pivotal to the case was Binkley’s 75-minute interview with Flagler County Sheriff’s detectives Mark Moy and Gabe Fuentes. The interview was played in court. Binkley at first denied any wrongdoing, then said maybe it was an accident, then confessed to touching the girls, but claimed it was not sexual in nature. That was the heart of the defense’s case–that there was touching, but that it was not malicious or sexual.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant State Attorney Melissa Clark. Binkley was represented by Assistant Public Defender Bill Bookhammer.
“He moved in with the family because he had some health issues and he had fallen on hard times financially,” Clark said, “and over the course of probably 18 months he becomes over time very friendly with the kids, he would give them treats, he’d buy them doughnuts on a regular basis, give them Tic Tacs, he gave them money for popcorn–they’d do Popcorn Friday at school and he would always give them money for that–tell them how much he loved them. He was just very kind and warm and gentle with them, which is typical with these kind of folks. They’re not going to be scary, they’re not going to do anything to threaten these kids. They want to get the kids to trust them so they can try different things with them.”
That’s what Clark argued to the jury, that Binkley “was testing the waters to see what these girls were willing to do.” One of the victims in her Child Protection Team interview said that before he started touching her, he told her she would like it, that it would feel good to her. “That’s what he was doing, was trying to get them comfortable with the idea, and then seeing how they acted and how they reacted. Then fortunately, mom finds out, and here we are.”
The touching was shut down before it got further than touching. “Then the investigation starts from there,” Clark continued. “We got law enforcement involved, eventually they talked with the defendant and got his statement, which I believe was the crux of the case, it really was instrumental in the case, and detective Fuetes and Cpl. Moy did a really, really good job in the interview with him. So yes, I think that had that not all happened, I think this probably would have gotten even worse than it did.”
When the two girls, now 10 and 8, testified, shy and uncomfortable, their body language clearly indicating they did not want to be there–as victims in the witness box in such situations rarely if ever do no matter their age. Still, they were able to describe who he was without giving as many details as they had during their interviews two years ago. “Some of those details, fortunately for them, have faded with time, so they’re not able to elicit all that,” Clark said.
Bookhammer’s approach with the two witnesses was non-confrontational, aiming only at eliciting from them that Binkley was kind to them, that he didn’t favor one over the other, to establish the claim that he was looking out for them as opposed to seeking to do them harm.
But for the jury, delivering a verdict after one of the shortest deliberation times in a major case in recent years, guilt appeared to be without question, suggesting that there had been very little deliberation: it takes a few minutes to get settled in the deliberation room and pick a foreperson, and it takes another brief amount of time to fill out the verdict form properly. The time in between would have been brief.