As he was prone to do during his two trials, one of them ending in a mistrial, Michael Craig Bowling, 48, went on an extended and not quite coherent harangue today as he stood before a circuit judge just before he was sentenced to 20 years in prison for molesting a 15-year-old girl at his own step-daughter’s sleepover in 2016.
He called the court, the verdict and the prosecution “a travesty,” repeatedly called his second trial “unfair” and portrayed himself as a victim, as he had during the week-long trials. Bowling went so far as ridiculing the victim’s nightmares, which she described in an email to the court, as she sat in the first bench a few feet behind him. He’d never showed an ounce of sympathy, remorse or reflection about the victim during the two trials. Today he was all rancor. It didn’t help his case.
A jury found Bowling guilty on both counts in February. His sentencing score-sheet showed that because he had no criminal past, he could be sentenced to as little as five years in prison on the two counts–a count of lewd and lascivious exhibition, for exposing himself in front of the victim, and a count of molestation. After asking the girl to lift up her shirt during a game of truth or dare, then lift it up without a bra, he’d ended up in a closet with the girl during a game of “Seven Minutes in Heaven,” once planting his mouth on her breast, and once masturbating in front of her and ejaculating on her. The defense maintained his innocence, and asked for the minimum prison term followed by two years’ probation. It is appealing the conviction and the sentence regardless.
The prosecution asked for the maximum five-year term on one charge and 15 years on the other, to be served consecutively, for a total of 20 years, plus 10 years of sex-offender probation and a designation as a sex offender for life. Case law justifies the consecutive standard because the incidents happened at intervals.
“The reason I’m arguing for consecutive sentences is that I believe the defendant is an absolute danger for our community,” Assistant State Attorney Melissa Clark, who’d prosecuted both trials, told the judge before describing how Bowling in deliberate, calculated steps tested how far he could impose himself on the girl. “He is the quintessential pedophile, he groomed that young lady over a short period of time and was very good at it. He read her quickly, he knew what he had, and he took advantage of it.” The incident took place in the Mondex, or Daytona North, in 2016.
For all of Bowling’s volubility during trials and today, Circuit Judge Terence Perkins, referring to the 20 pages of notes he’d taken during Bowling’s testimony at trial, was struck by what he had never said.
“I was trying to determine, even though Mr. Bowling was maintaining his innocence, whether there was even a hint of any remorse on his part for the fact that even these allegations were being made, where a circumstance existed by which he could be accused of that,” Perkins said. “And I must confess, I could find none, having reviewed his specific testimony in that regard. More problematic for me is I found his testimony was inconsistent with the testimony of the other witnesses, and the other evidence in the case, on points that really contained very little difference to the outcome of the case, and I can offer no explanation for that, but I found that deeply troubling in trying to determine his motivations, and quite candidly, whether or not, based on this conviction, he constituted a danger to our community.”
Though Perkins did not note that detail, Bowling had also never once shown a hint of affection, concern or love for his step-daughter, whose reputation he repeatedly tried to discredit to the point of attempting to show her to be sexually loose. It was a scabrous irony, considering the additional charges yet hanging over Bowling, among them a charge that he raped his own daughter, who claims he’d molested her since she was 7 or 8. (The child’s mother divorced him in 2017.) Docket sounding, the last step before trial, is scheduled for April 30 in that case. Perkins stressed today that no part of that second case would enter into his sentencing decision.
“It is always troubling, based on charges of this type,” Perkins said, “where adults are alleged, and in this case found by the jury to have preyed on children, particularly when they are preying on the most vulnerable of our children, it’s not right, it’s not fair, it’s disturbing at every level for a community in that regard, and that’s what the jury found happened precisely in this case.”
Because of that and other reasons he laid out, among them his skepticism about Bowling’s truthfulness and the prosecution’s reasoning, he imposed the consecutive sentences, a rare step in sentencing.
But it was also a reflection of the degree to which Bowling’s words and behavior at trial and even at the sentencing today had metastasized to the irremediable. Immediately before his sentencing, Perkins was faced with another sentencing, that of a man who’d pleaded guilty to armed robbery, a crime that carries a maximum penalty of life in prison. The man got five years. He, too, had testified, as had his wife, as even his victim had, but it was an entirely different story–one of genuine reflection, remorse and from, the victim, forgiveness, elements entirely absent from Bowling’s case.
Assistant Public Defender Bill Bookhammer was the defense attorney in both sentencing cases this morning, arguing them with the same skillfulness and resolve. But Bowling had left him with little to work with, particularly since Bowling had questioned Bookhammer’s strategy. He did so again during his harangue before the sentencing.
“I was expecting justice also and I just feel at the time that, you know, the prosecution had a job to do, and it was their duty to have a trial here and everything, to try to find the truth, not just to try to convict me or something,” Bowling started, this time in shackles and an orange jail jumpsuit rather than the suit he wore at trial, “and we went through the first trial, and it was a mistrial, obviously, and we get to the second trial, there’s a lot of things taken out of the second trial that the new jury didn’t get to see. That’s just to me, that’s just you know, I don’t know if it’s courtroom trickery, whatever you want to call it but the facts were taken out from the first case to the second case. It wasn’t produced the same way it was the first time. They took out rules and everything, I wasn’t even aware of this until, I didn’t even know I had a trial until five days before trial.”
He went on for 11 minutes uninterrupted by Perkins, blaming Clark for changing the number of witnesses in the second trial, blaming the judge for applying the rules as he did, blaming the jury for believing contradictory testimony, seemingly blaming his attorney for not giving him time to prepare, blaming the three key witnesses who did testify–his stepdaughter, the victim and his ex-wife–questioning their veracity, at one point singling out the victim to accuse her of being deceptive for having been able to sit through other witnesses’ testimonies during the first trial and use what they’d said when she testified the second time, as if Bowling himself hadn’t had the even ampler opportunity to calibrate every word in his testimony to what others had said, since he sat through it all.
“It wasn’t fair,” he said about a half dozen times. “I mean, we didn’t even get to, I didn’t even understand what was going on,” he said, upset that the prosecution didn’t call the same witnesses it had in the second trial that it did in the first. “It went their own way. There is no way to combat that,” he said, replaying various steps of the trial to the point of questioning evidence such as the transcript of his own words, calling it “made up.”
“Frankly I was offended by most of it,” Clark said in response, rebuffing his charges of trickery. The sentence did the rest.