Monserrate Teron, a 59-year-old nurse and Army veteran, was arrested in Palm Coast two years ago. He is charged with two capital felony counts of raping a girl younger than 12, and a first-degree felony count of molesting a girl younger than 12. He goes on trial Monday before Circuit Judge Terence Perkins in Bunnell.
This afternoon, Assistant State Attorney Melissa Clark, who is prosecuting the case, and Defense attorney Harley Brook argued a series of pre-trial motions, as is common before trials. The judge’s rulings map out the rules of the trial, what witnesses and testimony may and may not be introduced, what line of questioning may and may not be allowed, and so on. It did not go well for Teron.
He is accused of repeatedly assaulting a niece when she was 7. Today, Perkins reaffirmed an order he issued five weeks ago that will allow the prosecution to question two sisters who were Teron’s nieces from a first marriage, and who will testify of being molested by him between 1986 and 1988, when they were around the same age as the alleged victim at the center of the trial.
Though it is hearsay, the prosecution is allowed to introduce such “similar-fact evidence,” as it is referred to by the court, as long as it is closely similar to the allegations made by the victim. What is known as the Williams rule of evidence “can be devastating to defend,” Brook said as he attempted to challenge the judge’s order.
When they were young girls, the two witnesses lived with their parents in a house immediately below that where Teron lived with his then-wife and two children, in Puerto Rico. In one case, one of the women recalled that when she was 6 or 7, Teron invited her to his bedroom, stripped, removed her shirt, and asked him to play with his penis. She got frightened and ran out of the house.
The defense argued that the similarities with the present case are not there. The prosecution disagreed. Clark quoted form the deposition the woman gave: “He wanted me to touch his penis, he was saying that it was a doll, and that I needed to play with the doll.” She stopped it, put her shirt back on and ran out. “She stopped it, not Mr. Teron, she did. I would say it’s strikingly similar” to the trial case, Clark said. The judge agreed.
The other case was more grave. That witness, already deposed, testified today by zoom as she is expected to testify at trial. She said Teron repeatedly forced himself on her orally, including on the occasion of her ninth birthday, when he took her to an isolated place on a hill near the house and repeated the assault. He also allegedly had her drink his sperm from a glass, an incident the witness recalled today.
The defense is arguing that in the case of the woman who claims she was forced to give Teron oral sex, the claim is inconsistent with statements she gave during a deposition, when she explicitly said that she could not recall such instances. “There’s quite a bit of difference between the allegations that she makes,” the defense attorney said. He wasn’t arguing the similarity between the incidents, but their reliability.
Perkins, explaining his ruling, said that remoteness can be an issue. In this case the similar-fact witnesses are describing events that happened to them some 35 years ago. But the principle underlying the remoteness issue is that testimony can be excluded even if it’s merely a five-year-old recollection if it’s “incomplete or unreliable,” Perkins said, just as it can be foud not to be remote, even if it’s from 50 years ago, if the recollection is specific. In this case, Perkins had listened for a lack of specificity, for vagueness in the descriptions of the acts. “I didn’t find any of that,” he said. “The description given by the witnesses was specific and direct and supported.”
The judge conceded the inconsistency in the deposition. “If that were all we had in that regard, I would probably grant a motion to exclude that or I wouldn’t grant the state’s motion to bring that evidence. That’s not all we have.”
The inclusion of the two corroborative witnesses for the state will complicate the defense’s case, which will try to rely, at least in part, on a curious claim that Brook revealed today.
Brook said the girl behaved toward Teron in a way that victims of abuse at times behave–placing the blame on Teron, but only because she is being abused by someone else closer to her that she does not want to get in trouble. “There may have been something that did in fact happen to that young girl and she’s using my client as a scapegoat for someone, or to protect someone,” Brook said. The prosecution did not challenge the claim. The judge asked Brook if he had any evidence or research to show that such phenomena are common. Brook did not then and there, but said one of his key witnesses, a doctor, will testify to that.
He also attempted to argue that the girl–the alleged victim–was “oversexualized” for her age, a claim that flirted with accusing the girl of being the instigator (as, in fact, Teron did in his interviews with law enforcement). Clark, the prosecutor, did not let that one pass, and was granted a motion that will prevent any such “shaming” of the victim from taking place during the trial.
Perkins himself seemed outraged by the defense’s suggestion. “Let me make sure we’re on the same page,” he told the defense attorney. “Any of these incidental corollary observations that suggested in some fashion that this was a hypersexual victim, a victim that was looking to have sex despite her young age, all of those kinds of things, I think that’s totally improper. And I would not only grant the state’s motion in that regard, but sustain any objections.” But he was not closing the door on the defense bringing specific evidence in those regards, assuming it exists, “not this innuendo type of evidence that I think is completely improper.”
When he was arrested, Teron also told Flagler County Sheriff’s detectives that he could not have carried out the acts for which he is accused because, he said, he was impotent, and had gone as far as sending an image of his penis to the victim’s parents to prove it. When he offered to do likewise for sheriff’s detectives, they declined.
“I had my own emotional reactions to listening to her describe these things in vivid detail that a 7-year-old wouldn’t know,” one of the detectives said in his deposition, after watching a video recording of the child describing the incidents to her parents. The detective said he must have watched the video 100 times. “And it was evident to me that this is a–this is a genuine experience she had, and this was not something that was fabricated.”
A jury of 12 and two alternates will be selected on Monday. The trial is expected to last all week. This spring, the Florida Legislature changed the law, so that those found guilty of a capital sex offense like the ones Teron is facing could be eligible for the death penalty. Teron will not be, however, because he was charged before the law went into effect.
The law is, in fact, a revival of a law that was previously on the books. The law as passed by the Legislature a few weeks ago is unconstitutional: the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008 ruled that states may not impose the death penalty for the rape of a child, unless a child’s death is part of the crime. The Florida Legislature is hoping that its new law will be a test case with a more conservative court. The 2008 ruling was by a 5-4 vote. All five justices who voted in the majority are gone. Three of those in dissent–John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas–are still on the court, and have been joined by three justices to the right of Roberts.
The world we live in. Will he go to prison?
marty barrett says
note for author: It is an inaccurate statement of the law to characterize the similar fact evidence as hearsay in that it is not an out of court statement offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted. These are witnesses who presumably are testifying in court to things that allegedly happened to them
Ray W. says
Section 90.404(2) defines the admissibility of similar fact evidence, including where children’s statements are involved. Sometimes, those statements were made by children many years earlier, perhaps to other children.
Under section 90.803, the hearsay exception statute starts by defining the section as applying regardless of whether the declarant is available. The child hearsay exception is listed under subsection 23; it contains a subsection dealing with child sexual abuse hearsay.
Oddly, for those among us who live in a perfect or bad world, instead of a good/better/best, bad/worse/worst world, marty barrett is right and wrong at the same time. To me, he is mostly right, yet less than complete, based on context. Oy vey!
Bar Exam scholasticism at its best.
Lock him up for good, he should lose his priviledge to walk the streets as a free person.
Just because of how he abused people in the 80s doesn’t mean it has to be the exact same 30-40 years later.
Ray W. says
Finally, the right comment. Thank you, JimBob.
Over a year ago, while awaiting my turn to testify during a post-conviction proceeding, I told Mr. Tristam that I was waiting for a commenter to post something relevant to the three forms of reasoning that were taught to those of our founding fathers who attended colleges and universities in the decades before the Revolutionary War. Bar exams are based on these three forms of reasoning.
As foundation, western rational thought, based in large part on Plato’s accounts of the Socratic dialogues, really took root during the Renaissance period. Eventually, proponents of a philosophical theory now known as the Scottish Enlightenment became presidents of almost all of the American universities and colleges in the decades immediately prior to the Revolution. Many of the professors, too, taught in that style. The period of the Scottish Enlightenment spanned from roughly 1690 to 1810. A subset of that philosophy developed after roughly 1760, a span that is now known as the Age of Reason. One of the leading figures in the Age of Reason was a Scottish minister, Thomas Reid, who is considered to be one of the founders of the Common Sense movement. The importance of this emerging philosophical movement to the founding of our nation cannot be overstated.
One of the three forms of thought inhering in western rational thought is known as deductive reasoning, though it is also commonly known as formal logic. Deductive reasoning does not use inferences. A hallmark of deductive reasoning is that it must lead to one result to the exclusion of all other possible results. One crude or very simple example is that five time five will always lead to 25, to the exclusion of all other possible answers. In a recent FlaglerLive article, The Thinking Error Behind Climate Change Deniers, the author used terms like “all or none thinking”, “black or white thinking”, “dichotomous thinking”, “binary thinking”, and “100% or fail” thinking, to describe various forms of irrational thought that are used by people to deny climate science, all the while claiming that they are using logic to prove their points and deny the science. I have commonly referred to this type of thinking as “perfect or bad” thinking, which I used in my above comment.
Another of the three forms of thought is known as inductive reasoning, though it is also commonly known as informal logic. Inductive reasoning, while based in part on deduction, also uses inferences. It, too, carries the hallmark requirement that whatever the result, inductive reasoning must lead to one result to the exclusion of all other possible results. In large part, medical science relies on inductive or inferential reasoning. I used this form of reasoning to successfully defend a Flagler County Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) first-degree murder case. In that case, the State’s lead expert witness was the physician who headed a trauma team at the Jacksonville hospital ER where my client’s child presented with a constellation of injuries that the doctor felt matched SBS literature. During deposition, that doctor relied on SBS literature to state under oath that the only way a child could present with that constellation of injuries from a fall would have to be from a height of at least seven stories. Since it is medically unethical to actually shake a child to determine the force necessary to cause the constellation of injuries that comprise SBS, researchers forcefully shook animals to the point of injury and inferred those forces onto human children. I became aware of a biomechanicist who sought ER records from the CDC over a two-year period of children who presented in ER’s with playground injuries that were deemed “short-distance” falls. Of the tens of thousands of records, the biomechanicist found 16 that resulted in deaths. He followed up by obtaining police reports and medical records, plus he interviewed witnesses. One of the 16 cases involved a very young child who fell from a Fisher-Price play set. The child’s grandmother was video recording her as she played, so the entire event was preserved. Uniquely and fortuitously, that child lived in Jacksonville and was treated by the same team, led by the same doctor, that treated my client’s child. I paid for an hour of the doctor’s time and travelled to Jacksonville to discuss the biomechanicist’s findings, including the child the doctor had treated. He pulled up that child’s medical file on his computer. After reviewing it, he asked me to obtain the autopsy report in that case. After the trial judge ordered the release of the report, I paid for another hour of the doctor’s time. He reviewed the autopsy report alongside his medical file. He turned to me and told me that he was required to change his deposition testimony, stating that now that he knew that he, personally, had treated a child who had died from a short-distance fall, the seven-story literature was no longer valid. After a four-day hearing, Judge Hammond entered an order finding that SBS theory did not meet the Frye standard for admission into evidence. At trial, the treating doctor testified that my client’s child could have died in the manner she described to detectives. Inductive reasoning must lead to one result to the exclusion of all other possible results. I proved to the doctor that another result was possible, and he understood that he could no longer state under oath what he had been stating for years. A medical examiner later told me that SBS is no longer accepted by medical examiners; they are being taught that there must be impact, plus shaking.
While inductive and deductive reasoning applies in many situations, by far the most situations that people confront involve the third form of reasoning derived from western rational thought: Argumentation, which is also commonly referred to as legal reasoning. Argumentation has many rules to ensure the validity of the conclusions, but it is not designed to lead to one result to the exclusion of all other possible results. This form of reasoning is designed to allow a person who is engaging in rational thinking to select the best, or least bad, result among many possible results. This is what I refer to as good/better/best, bad/worse/worst thinking. As a foundation, it is irrational to argue that shrimp tastes better than lobster, because taste is an individual perspective. However, there are instances in which argumentation applies. In economic theory, whenever a nation faces an economic shock, such as a pandemic, standard economic theory advocates that an economic stimulus is the best way to address the shock. In the early days of the pandemic, there was zero doubt in the Republican-controlled Senate that a stimulus package was necessary. The initial $2 trillion package passed the Senate 96-0. The Democratic-controlled House also easily passed the package. Then-President Trump immediately signed the package into law. Later, both houses passed a $900 billion package, which Trump also signed. During the Biden years, an additional $3 trillion or so was approved by a Republican-controlled House and Democratic-controlled Senate. President Biden signed the various packages into law. Was this the best approach? Was it a good approach? Was it a bad approach? Only time will tell. Economists are now talking of a soft landing and that we will avoid recession, when depression might have been the outcome had both houses and both presidents done nothing. People will argue endlessly about the appropriate size of the stimulus packages, but none will argue that nothing would have been best.
On a Bar Exam, the choices would be A, B, or C. Or A and C. Or B and C. Or none of the above. Or A, B, and C. Argumentation at its finest. In my first semester of law school one of my professors announced to the large class that if someone provided the best answer in the class on the essay portion of the final exam, he or she would earn a grade of 90. If the answer was the best of all his classes that semester, the person would earn a 91. If it was the best answer over a several year period, the grade would be a 92. If it was the best answer of all-time, a 93.
When one reads the Federalist Papers, it is easy to see the effectiveness of the form of reasoning they employ, known as argumentation. The various authors admit over and over again to flaws in their arguments, to unsolvable problems, yet they maintain that the proposed Constitution is the best option among multiple options, and that it is certainly better than the already-existing Articles of Confederation. Time, I think, has proved them right, but the explosion of irrational thinking, of all or nothing thinking, causes me pause and great concern. Have we, as a nation, come to see reality as an enemy that needs to be defeated. If so, western rational thought solves no problems, provides no answers. The definition of right and wrong will become, for the irrational among us, whether we like it or not. If we like it, it is right. If we don’t like it, it is wrong. No rules underpinning western rational thought. Only brute force. Or, as one local Republican politician stated over Flagler County airwaves: When can we start beheading Democrats?
“over sexualized” seven year old. That crosses the line of decency. More evidence women and kids don’t report.