The prosecution and defense delivered their closing arguments this afternoon in Monserrate Teron’s trial thinking the jury would then deliberate and render a verdict this evening. Arguments were done at 4:40 p.m. Circuit Court Judge Terence Perkins gave the jurors the option of deliberating tonight or returning Friday to do so. They opted for Friday.
That’s not what lawyers generally prefer. They like their juries to go into the deliberation room with closings fresh in mind. They don’t like juries going home potentially to errant discussions about the case, to possible exposure to reporting about it–or its history: there’s so much of it in this case–or even to sleep on it. Not in a case of he-said-she-said hinging on nuance and psychology and the credibility of witnesses more than on hard evidence, of which there is none.
On the other hand, hurried, stressed, cranky decisions influenced by empty stomachs and jurors pining for home aren’t fair to defendants, especially defendants facing the possibility of life in prison. If Teron is convicted on the charges, he faces mandatory life.
Perkins was almost certainly remembering how the jury got the case at 3:40 p.m. the last time, six weeks ago, when Teron was first tried on the charges that he molested and raped his 7-year-old niece. The jury deliberated for over five hours–no dinner–asking a few questions along the way. It deadlocked. Perkins declared a mistrial, requiring this week’s second go.
This trial’s jurors–four men, three women, including the alternate–presumably know nothing about the May trial. But after Perkins sent them to the jury room to decide whether to stay or return in the morning, their decision was a hint that the coming deliberations may not be any less tortuous than they were the last time, though this time the jury will be half the size it was in Teron’s first trial.
So Teron, 59, was taken back to the Flagler County jail, where he’s been held since January 11 on $250,000 bond, to await his fate. His alleged victim and her family, who again flew down from their home in Massachusetts–the girl, now 11, her mother and father all testified again, as they had in the first trial–will be in a limbo of their own, presumably in a hotel somewhere in Palm Coast: the two families, once very close, are no longer talking.
Mother and father (not the girl, nor her older sister) attended closing arguments. The mother was again reduced to quiet sobs as Assistant State Attorney Melissa Clark ireplayed the most revealing parts of their daughter Megan’s (*) explanations to a therapist, on video, of how Teron had her play with his penis and masturbate him, how he did so at his home on Edwin Lane in Palm Coast one night ion November 2019 where, for the first time, he sprayed her with what she described as some sort of “milk” and made her drink it, to her disgust.
She was a few months short of 8 then, but as she described it, it had been going on since she was in kindergarten and would happen just about every time Teron and his wife would visit her family in Massachusetts.
Defense attorney Harley Brook had several sharply worded arguments designed to give the jury pause and sow doubt about what they’d heard in a case “littered with reasonable doubt,” as Brook put it, especially when his argument turned to what Teron had claimed when he was arrested: that he had erectile dysfunction. That he couldn’t get it up, and therefore couldn’t possibly have ejaculated.
“If he didn’t take Viagra, he couldn’t have gotten an erection. And if he couldn’t have gotten an erection, he could not have ejaculated, period,” Brook almost thundered to the jury, knowing that he was delivering a blow to the prosecution’s case.
Except that what Brook was saying is demonstrably, medically untrue.
Of course men can ejaculate without an erection. As a UCLA health page on “dealing with erectile dysfunction”–one of innumerable medically credible sources repeating the same thing in one variation or another–states: “An erection is not necessary for orgasm or ejaculation. Even if a man cannot have an erection or can only get or keep a partial erection, with the right sexual stimulation you can experience an orgasm. Your orgasm has little to do with your prostate gland. As long as you have normal skin sensation, you can have an orgasm.”
In her video interview with a trained therapist about the allegations, Megan had all but unknowingly described the very phenomenon. She’d described the way Teron had orgasmed, without using the term. She’d described the way he would have her touch him and even showed with her hands precisely how she would do it. The therapist asked questions carefully, letting Megan describe things, staying away from leading questions. But it was clear at one point that the therapist was asking her if anything “changed” with Teron as Megan would pleasure him: she was most likely trying to have Megan describe whether she’d noticed Teron’s penis change size. Megan never intimated anything of the sort, saying only that he would express that it felt good. In other words, normal skin sensation.
Teron’s insistent reliance on the false claim that he could not possibly ejaculate was itself an easily disproved lie that prosecutors would normally jump on to underscore a defendant’s dishonesty.
The prosecution, however, never made the point. It let the defense make the false claim about erections, unrebutted. It is always possible that any one of the four men on the jury could inform his fellow-jurors from personal experience that Brook’s claim is wrong (age is not a pre-requisite of dysfunction). But that’s not evidence presented in court, though Brook’s claim was not evidence, either: it was part of his argument. Neither side presented expert testimony on erectile functions or dysfunctions. It is likelier that the false information will play into the jury’s deliberation as delivered by Brook, and possibly influence the verdict.
Both sides had other arguments with which to bolster their case.
The prosecution harped on the fact that Teron in his interview with a Flagler County Sheriff’s detective spoke of several incidents that indicated that Megan was “obsessed” with his penis, but not once told her parents about it–ostensibly because prior experience suggested they didn’t care, and wouldn’t have done anything about it (a tendentious, self-serving rationale Clark didn’t let pass unchallenged: in child-rearing, the girl’s parents appear to be closer to Dr. Spock than to Leviticus).
Megan had described the location of the Palm Coast assault down to describing her room having a murphy bed, a kind of bed she’d never seen before. She described acts that no 6 or 7 or 8 year old could possibly know in such details, absent grooming (a term neither side used once: the prosecution used the word “trained” or “training”). “It is descriptive. It is horribly descriptive, what she’s able to explain to us,” Clark said, not stopping there but relaying the descriptions.
The prosecutor stressed that Teron’s wife had changed her story between this trial and the last (Clark referred to the previous trial as “a hearing,” so as not to let on about the mistrial) when the wife described herself as having eyes on Teron the entire time he was in Megan’s bedroom, that night when the girl and her sister visited in Palm Coast. In the first trial, Teron’s wife had positioned her husband on one side of the bed, then on the other, in the second trial–by which time the prosecution had secured pictures of the house’s layout. The jury saw those pictures yesterday and today. It was an attempt to discredit the wife’s account.
In fact, a fair reading of the wife’s testimony in the first trial doesn’t clearly indicate that she changed her story. Her description then, compared to her description when she took the stand today, could be interpreted as different, but could just as easily be interpreted as consistent, depending on perspective.
What was less believable was that by sitting where she was in the living room–if that’s where she was: the prosecution doubted it–she would have had eyes on her husband the entire 30 to 40 minutes he was in the girl’s bedroom, where the assault allegedly took place: the girl herself had described how she and her uncle had developed a habit, their furtiveness as essential as it was common.
To the defense, the girl’s claim that she left the room to rinse her mouth out after the act isn’t believable because her aunt would have seen her go to the bathroom (though the distance between bedroom and bathroom is minute). The girl claimed Teron had brought a paper towel, to be prepared. “Where’s the paper towel?” Brook asked, though it isn’t difficult to make a compromising paper towel disappear. Brook also relied on several peripheral inconsistencies in the girl’s descriptions to argue that since “she has not been 100 percent accurate in her testimony in the past,” she could not be believed to the point of convicting his client.
But what child–what lawyer–is 100 percent accurate?
“And members of the jury, even even if you believe that Monserrate Teron committed these offenses,” Brook said in closing, “but you have a doubt that is reasonable, reasonable doubt in your mind, even if you believe that he did. You must find him not guilty.”
Brook had sought to paint Megan as an aggressor who has her own issues. He insinuated that she may have been the victim of abuse, but not at Teron’s hand, but never explained why it was Teron and Teron alone she allegedly obsessed over.
Clark proposed the answer: “This had been going on for a long time, she thought this was a game. And this was something she did with her uncle who she loved,” Clark told the jury. “And she’s told you that nobody else has ever done anything like this to her except her uncle because it was her uncle that abused her sexually in November of 2019. That is why he’s been charged with these three offenses, and that is why I’m asking that you find him guilty as charged.”
That’s what the jurors are sleeping on tonight.
(*) The name has been changed.