Kwentel Moultrie spoke as if he had no reason to deal, and opted this morning for trial in a month after declining the prosecution’s latest offer to plead out his rape charge–and going against his own motion for a speedy trial.
The 23-year-old Palm Coast resident of Brittany Lane has been at the county jail since Feb. 25, when his bond on a first-degree felony rape charge was revoked after his arrest on an unrelated second-degree murder charge stemming from a home-invasion robbery in th R Section last December.
He was accused of raping a 16-year-old girl in 2019, a charge he denies, saying it was consensual, and that he’d been invited back to her room that night. An invitation to a room is not an invitation for sex, but that’s what he argued in his first trial–after denying that any sex had taken place at all. His DNA was detected in the girl, after a rape kit examination. But the prosecution’s chief witness–the alleged victim–did not testify, significantly weakening the case. The jury could not reach a decision, resulting in a mistrial.
Before trial, and before the murder charge, Moultrie had been offered a deal: the charge would be reduced to child abuse. He’d serve no prison time, just probation. For the state to go from first-degree felony rape to a third-degree felony child abuse charge, and drop demands for prison, reflects how weak the state’s case may have been (primarily because it did not have its chief witness, and its other witness was drunk at the time of the allegation). But Moultrie had turned down that deal. He wanted his trial even then.
That deal “blew off the table as soon as I had understanding that he was involved in a home invasion robbery homicide,” Assistant State Attorney Melissa Clark told Circuit Judge Terence Perkins this morning.
Not that the state wasn’t still willing to deal, as it tried this morning. Moultrie was back in court to argue that his right to a speedy trial was on the line. Today’s hearing dispensed with that: the court and the state offered to go to trial next week: jurors will be coming in, and Perkins’s docket is–unusually so–available for trial. Moultrie declined. Put another way: he withdrew his own motion for a speedy trial.
“I don’t really see the benefit of going next week, when we’re already set for trial” for Aug. 22, Assistant Public Defender Regina Nunnally said. “Our witnesses are working people, and I’m not sure if there’ll be available next week, either.”
Clark said she was ready for trial either week. “I’ve already contacted all my witnesses. They’re going to be adjusting their schedules just like everybody else, but they are available if we need to go next week,” Clark said.
Moultrie didn’t change his mind. He has nowhere to go: he can’t bond out. He has no reason to speed up the trial on the rape charge. The murder case is still in the pre-trial phase, with yet another pre-trial scheduled for September, so it won’t be tried until fall or winter.
It’s not clear whether the state will have the same witnesses in the new trial as it did in the previous one. Absent the main witness, the case may not be any stronger this time around, though juries are entirely different creatures from one to the next. But all told, Moultrie has no compelling reason to plead out, and more reasons not to, with other cases looming. (He also faces yet another case: a third-degree felony charge resulting from an allegation that he assaulted a fellow-inmate at the jail in late May.
Perkins tried one more time to resolve the rape case with a plea. Moultrie declined, as is his right: the state’s latest offer wasn’t nearly as generous as it once was, and Moultrie, with the mistrial behind him–and a cockiness that no juror can miss–is clearly willing to try his chances again.
“We did reach out to her,” Nunnally said of Clark, “and she said if he wanted to plead, he had to plead as charged, and was recommending prison and probation.” Moultrie was not interested in pleading to a sex offense, being declared a sex offender and going to prison. His score sheet had him at 94.8 months’ minimum–eight years–in prison.
“So it’s probably what my recommendation would be followed by sex offender probation, which is typical for what I do in these sorts of cases,” Clark said–if he were to plead out.
“And if he’s convicted on the charge, any idea on what the state’s recommendation would be with regard to sentencing?” the judge asked.
“More than that,” Clark said: a first-degree felony charge carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison, though Moultrie doesn’t score close to that, as the score sheet disclosed today indicates. But the state would likely add to the minimum of eight years.
Still, the judge cautioned him, “I’d be looking at something between the bottom of the score sheet, which is nine years, up to the maximum in this case, which is 30 years.” A person convicted of a sex offense of this sort at trial would also be designated a sexual predator for life, not just a sexual offender, and the individual would not be eligible for gain time, or early release. Sentences for sex crimes must be served day for day under Florida law (although that law is under court challenge).
“The offer for bottom of the guidelines expires today?” Perkins asked Clark.
“Yes,” she said.
“Okay. You want anytime to talk to–” the judge began to ask Moultrie. He was trying to ask him whether he wanted to talk the options over with Nunnally. Moultrie interrupted him.
“No, I’m good. I’m ready for trial,” Moultrie said.