The jury had been selected and reported to the courthouse this morning but was never seated in the courtroom: Jerald Medders, the 53-year-old Palm Coast man facing life in prison on four charges of sex with a minor, agreed to a plea. With his victim in the courtroom, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison followed by 15 years’ sex-offender probation, and a lifetime designation as a sex offender.
The half-hour sentencing hearing included the victim reading a one-page statement from the stand about what she described as “one of the most sinister things a human being can do to another.” The woman, now 18, said she was no longer a victim but “a survivor.”
As she spoke, some of the seven members of Medders’s family, who sat on a side of the courtroom opposite the victim’s family, grumbled, snorted and shifted. Early in the woman’s statement, one of the family members stood up with a contrived, audible huff and theatrically–and noisily–slammed his way out of the courtroom. He did so too quickly for a bailiff to react: audience participation, including reactions of any kind, is forbidden in courtroom proceedings, except when called to the stand. Luckily for the family member, sentence had already been pronounced: the man had nothing else to lose.
The woman was unfazed. Poised throughout, and struggling to get control of her composure only at the very beginning of the statement, she read on to the end in clear and lucid sentences, several of them directed at Medders.
He was unmoved just then. But Medders, who had displayed an astounding streak of self-absorbed boastfulness and haughtiness in conversations between him and the victim that detectives recorded–Medders thought he could always outsmart detectives, and repeatedly blamed the victim–finally had a flash of grace toward his victim Monday evening, when he decided not to go ahead with the trial. He said he did not want to put the victim through it.
By then he’d spent the day watching his attorney, Michael Lambert, and Assistant State Attorney Melissa Clark go through jury selection all day, with Circuit Judge Terence Perkins presiding. Jury selection is the first time a defendant gets to sense the dynamic of his fate placed at the mercy of a half dozen individuals whose brief life stories and experiences he would have heard. Somewhere along the way, he realized that the risk of a conviction by jury was too great. If that had happened, he would have faced a mandatory minimum of 30 years in prison–essentially, life–and the possibility of consecutive sentences totaling 60 years.
Clark had offered the 15 years in prison deal previously. He’d turned it down. Late Monday night, he changed his mind and so informed the prosecution. The victim’s family was willing to accept the deal, especially as it would spare her the ordeal of testifying.
And so Medders stood before the judge, ready to be sentenced. He had been out on $40,000 bond, and had walked in with his family after signing the plea agreement in an antechamber. He wore a polo shirt, dark pants and sneakers as opposed to the usual trial attire (suit and tie), knowing he’d only be facing the judge, who asked him how he pleaded on each of the counts.
Count One of lewd or lascivious battery, the equivalent of statutory rape: “guilty, your honor.”
Count two of lewd or lascivious battery: “guilty, your honor.”
Count four of lewd or lascivious molestation: “guilty, your honor.”
Count three of unlawful sexual activity with a minor: “guilty, your honor.”
He was sentenced to 15 years concurrent on counts one, two and four, and 15 years’ sex-offender probation on count three, plus the usual court costs and fines. It is not a day-for-day sentence: he will be eligible for early release, assuming good behavior, after serving 85 percent of his sentence. That plus a few months’ credit for time already served at the Flagler County jail means Medders may be released around the time of his 65th birthday. His probation includes numerous restrictions, including no contact with minors, a curfew, polygraph and registration requirements.
It was after sentence was pronounced that the 18-year-old woman took the stand.
“The abuse I’ve endured, I wouldn’t wish upon anyone, especially a child,” she said. “My abuser abused of his power as an adult in the community to gain my trust, perpetrate, and target me as his victim. He sought me out since I moved to Florida, which was when I was 13 years old.” She added: “You stole my innocence as a child. During my abuse, I was made to feel less than a human being, dirty, and at times I even questioned if life was worth living. Thankfully, I’ve received the proper counseling and tools to deal with life’s challenges. My family has always loved me and been supportive of me, even when I didn’t believe in myself.” She quoted Gandhi and forgave Medders, saying she’d leave his fate up to God. See the full statement below.
According to Medders’s arrest report and the subsequent investigation, conducted chiefly by detectives George Hristakopoulos, Annie Conrad and one other detective, Medders had developed an interest in the woman when she was 13. She was the daughter of friends of Medders’s. He would spend time at her family home, getting close to her, then find various pretexts to have her go home with him. The rapes started when she was 15.
His two recorded conversations with the victim, one of them in person the other on the phone, amounted to confessions, but also accusations directed at the victim for seducing him–a common ploy by adults who abuse minors. “I tell him it’s not right, but he keeps on telling me that it’s okay,” the victim told a Child Protection Team interviewer. “And then he told me that I provoked him, if anybody were to find out about this that I provoked him.” He was arrested in 2017. (The sheriff’s Major Crimes Unit has been especially effective in recent years at closing cases and securing convictions.)
The victim told the CPT interviewer that she’d felt “kind of disgusted” and “in shock” after the first encounter, “and he told me that it was okay, that everybody sleeps with somebody younger than them at one point in time.”
The judge did not lecture Medders. Nor did Medders offer any words either of remorse or reflection. His only statements were directed at the court, and several “I love you” directed at his family, who answered back the same way, though they were not done with the victim’s family: as Medders’s family walked out of the courtroom, they slung a few recriminations at the victim’s family, among them the word “liar.”
Medders’s family then huddled in the parking lot, next to the victim’s vehicle, and refused to leave. A bailiff approached them and calmly spoke to them. They said they wouldn’t leave, saying they wanted to speak to Lambert. But they’d also made an obscene gesture or two in the direction of the courthouse, likely seeing the victim and her family looking down from the fourth-floor windows, where they’d stayed, waiting for those below to leave. Eventually one detective took the family to a different part of the parking lot and another had to drive the victim’s family’s car to that area, bringing an end to the situation.
The full statement by the woman at the center of the accusations against Jerald Medders:
First, I’d like to say thank you for allowing me the opportunity to address the court and express my sentiments regarding this case. For over two years I’ve been struggling with the physical, emotional, and psychological trauma the defendant, Jerald Donald Medders caused me. The abuse I’ve endured, I wouldn’t wish upon anyone, especially a child. My abuser abused of his power as an adult in the community to gain my trust, perpetrate, and target me as his victim. He sought me out since I moved to Florida, which was when I was 13 years old.
To befriend my family to victimize me is probably one of the most sinister things a human being can do to another. You stole my innocence as a child. During my abuse, I was made to feel less than a human being, dirty, and at times I even questioned if life was worth living. Thankfully, I’ve received the proper counseling and tools to deal with life’s challenges. My family has always loved me and been supportive of me, even when I didn’t believe in myself.
I’m now 18 years old and I would like to say that I’m no longer a victim, I’m a survivor! Even when you tried to break me down and abused of me to act out your sexually deviant fantasies. I’m proud to say that I’m still working on healing and believe in God first and foremost. He is our maker and decides our fate. I want you to know that I forgive you for what you’ve done to me and will let God be the judge of your fate. As a wise man, Mahatma Ghandi once said, “There is a higher court than courts of justice and that is the court of conscience. It supercedes all other courts. You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is like an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.”
Despite what I’ve been through I still believe that there are good people in the world and if I was used by God as a vessel to liberate other victimized and troubled souls, then I have served my purpose on this earth. To all victims that have been through what I’ve been through, I would like to say to you, “Speak your truth. Let your voices be heard. And remember, you are no longer a victim once you have broken your silence.” God is good and justice will prevail. Once again, I’d like to say’thank you for allowing me to speak my truth, Your Honor.