The defense’s strategy in Monserrate Teron’s trial on charges that he raped his 7-year-old niece has been on blunt display for the past two days in a Bunnell courtroom: indict the accuser. Indict her family. Indict her forensic interviewer. Indict the investigator. Make them look uninvolved, clueless, incompetent, prejudiced. Question them as if they are on trial, not Teron.
Use tactics jurors would be familiar with from shrill courtroom drama scripts, whether the tactics have any relevance to the evidence or not. Use implicitly accusatory phrases to cast doubt on the credibility of the witness before the witness has even answered–“Is it your testimony that…” “Yes or no, did you report to the police…” “You lied to get the answers you wanted from him, yes or no?” “Isn’t it a giant red flag that…” and so on.
Rifle one question after another knowing the answer will always be negative, however irrelevant or inconsequential the question, as long as the witness comes off looking clueless or ignorant. Fire the questions so fast that the jury has no time to gauge their relevance to the witness’ role or profession. What matters is the rhythm, the relentless rhythm making the attorney look like she’s onto something shady and sinister. What matters is the appearance of a witness demolished, impeached. Doesn’t matter which witness. They’re all in it together, aren’t they?
“What type of questions are being asked? How are they being asked? Are they leading questions or open questions? Are they truly to seek an answer to an allegation for an investigation, or is it to reach a conclusion to close the case?” defense attorney Brook O’Sullivan had told the jury in her opening arguments, setting up the witnesses as a cabal out to get her client. “Throughout each person that testifies, think about why is this person saying what they’re saying.” O’Sullivan didn’t elaborate further: it was enough to imply an ominous motive.
“Do they actually have personal knowledge, or are they trying to fit information into a space that was most convenient for the perfect little red bow on the case?” she told the jury mockingly, though in most such cases there is no such thing as “personal knowledge” because there are no witnesses. She might as well have been implying that, as in Sharia law, no rape accusation is valid unless backed up by four (male) witnesses.
It’s a risky scorched-earth, all-or-nothing approach by O’Sullivan that could convince the jury that there’s enough doubt for acquittal. But O’Sullivan’s antipathy for the prosecution’s witnesses could just as easily backfire and be such a turnoff that the defense is merely aiding the prosecution in this second trial on the same charges in six weeks. A jury of 12 deadlocked six weeks ago, when Harley Brook (no relation to Brook O’Sullivan) led the defense. O’Sullivan, a former prosecutor herself, has led so far, at times seeming almost to relish her role, mirroring the contempt of her questions in her demeanor at the podium.
The case that could send Teron, 59, to prison comes down to this: Megan (*) says her uncle molested her from the time she was in kindergarten to around the time she was almost 8. By her descriptions, the molestation included oral and vaginal rape at Teron’s home in Palm Coast in November 2019. Teron says he didn’t do it.
There are no witnesses, no DNA, no physical evidence, at least not directly so. That’s not unusual when children are victims of sexual abuse: most such cases–42 to 49 percent of children in Megan’s age group are victimized by a family member–are never even reported.
In this case, after Megan’s older sister pestered Megan to the point of tears to reveal her deepest secret, Megan did so, to her parents, months after her last visit to Palm Coast and the alleged incident in Teron’s E Section home, the alleged incident now at the center of his trial on capital charges that he raped her.
The jury of 12 in May apparently deadlocked because–based on what jurors revealed in comments on the case previously–two jurors were not convinced that the assaults took place in Palm Coast. Megan lives in Massachusetts, where Teron had visited several times and (according to her) assaulted her there, too. He cannot be convicted on any evidence other than what the prosecution proves took place in Palm Coast.
The evidence the prosecution does have includes Megan’s initially fitful and vague descriptions of what had allegedly been happening with Teron once her parents asked her about it–evidence the jury watched in a pair of videos that recorded those exchanges inside her parent’s bedroom.
The evidence includes Megan’s longer forensic interview with a trained therapist, also on video, where Megan is more detailed, more precise, more poised, and where the modulations in her voice and body language unmistakably cloud the moment she turns from talking about what 8-year-old girls talk about–turtles, swimming, backyards–to describing acts in words and gestures no 8 year old has any reason to know anything about, let alone have the ability to describe as no child’s imagination possibly could, unless that child had been directly exposed to what she is describing.
And the evidence includes Megan herself, her testimony on the stand today for exactly an hour–again, six weeks after she’d gone through the same thing in the same courtroom–detailing what she said took place that night at Teron’s house.
The jury might have wondered–or feared–how O’Sullivan would take her on, after the way O’Sullivan had drubbed Megan’s mother. But the other Brook stood up for Megan’s cross-examination, approaching it more like the father of daughters that Brook is than like a prosecutor, though he, too, went for the memory holes, at times making straight-out statements: “There’s a lot of things you don;t remember that evening.”
“I know that what I said happened happened, but I don’t remember details,” Megan replied.
Was the door open or closed? She wasn’t sure. Did Teron make a mess? She didn’t remember, exactly. “I believe he had a paper towel in hand just in case,” she said. Brook made much of a deposition where Megan had used words like “I guess,” “I believe,” II think”–words any pre-teen would use a few hundred times a day even when asked questions to which there could only be obvious answers, but in a deposition, in a courtroom, in the framing questions of an attorney, the same words can be made to look like admissions of doubt or ignorance. Brook did more gently what Sullivan had done brutally.
Assistant State Attorney melissa Clark, who is prosecuting the case with Assistant State Attorney Tara Libby, gave Megan the chance to clarify th difference between irrelevant details and what mattered: “I do know what happened that night but I don’t remember the details, such as whether the door was open or closed, what specific nightgown I was wearing, or what he was wearing,” Megan said.
“So you don’t remember those little details but you remember what happened between you and tío Terone that night.”
“Yes. That happened.”
The jury also heard from two other witnesses who had testified at the first trial, two sisters now in their 40s who had grown up in Puerto Rico, whose relative had been married to Teron at the time. (That marriage ended.) Teron lived in an adjacent house. One of the women testified that he tried to molest her, the other testified that he did so, repeatedly over the years, including on her ninth birthday, when he took her to a hill overlooking the houses and forced her to perform oral sex.
Teron is expected to testify when the defense puts on its case, as is his wife.
(*) The name has been changed.
Abuse Hotline: Report Abuse Online
The Florida Abuse Hotline accepts reports 24 hours a day and 7 days a week of known or suspected child abuse, neglect, or abandonment and reports of known or suspected abuse, neglect, or exploitation of a vulnerable adult. Please use the links below to report a child or adult abuse.
If you suspect or know of a child or vulnerable adult in immediate danger, call 911.
Any person who knows, or has reasonable cause to suspect, that a child is abused, abandoned, or neglected by a parent, legal custodian, caregiver, or other person responsible for the child’s welfare is a mandatory reporter. § 39.201(1)(a), Florida Statutes.
To report an allegation in Spanish or Creole, please call 1-800-962-2873, for TTY use 711 or 1-800-955-8771. This toll free number is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with counselors waiting to assist you.