Content warning: The following article contains explicit descriptions of acts or behavior readers may find disturbing.
One of the videos lasts 20 minutes, the other 15. They show 8-year-old Megan (*) doing her best to answer her parents’ questions about the way her uncle Monserrate Teron allegedly molested and raped her.
It’s surveillance video from inside the bedroom of Megan’s parents–the “nest,” as the parents designated that particular camera. The clips date back to September 2020 in the family’s Massachusetts home. Megan is referring to incidents that happened in Florida and Massachusetts, one of those incidents allegedly in Palm Coast’s E Section the night of November 12, 2019.
Megan’s mother was on the witness stand this morning as the video started playing. She broke down even during the minute or two at the beginning of the first video when no one appears, when all she and the jury could see were her conjugal bedroom in Massachusetts. She cried more when Megan appeared in the frame, at first by herself, distraught, weepy, as if looking to hide, as she climbs on her parents’ bed and clutches herself.
Teron, the girl’s uncle, now 59, was in the second day of his trial at the Flagler County courthouse on charges that he raped and molested Megan. He faces life in prison if convicted. He is claiming innocence, and that Megan’s own aggressive, “inappropriate” behavior toward him (the term used by his defense attorneys in court motions) is being misinterpreted as his own against her.
Teron this morning was looking at the overhead screen to his right in the courtroom as the videos from the “nest” played, with Megan’s mother to his left, nearer the 12-member jury (plus two alternates). Moments earlier he had waved at his sister-in-law, twice, when Assistant State Attorney Melissa Clark asked her to identify Teron, as if he were calling her attention from a distance at a shopping mall.
He didn’t wave to Megan when she took the stand late in the afternoon. Megan is 11 now, a lot more poised than she was in those videos. She is just about the teen she joked she was about to become even then. She didn’t look at her uncle until the prosecutor told her to identify him, which briefly seemed to terrify her, paralyze her. Her voice went dim, she wouldn’t point, she finally mentioned his black jacket and white shirt. Then she went back to looking at the prosecutor, or the side of the courtroom opposite Teron, or the judge. Just not at Teron.
He had been relatively calm, even cheery with his attorneys at times, until then. Now he was fidgety. When Megan described in her own words how Teron made her play with his “pee-pee stick,” how he had her put it in her mouth and satisfied himself, he held his chin, he rubbed his nose compulsively, he picked up a pen, put it down, picked up a legal pad, put it down, he stared at her, he held his chin in both hands, he rubbed his nose again.
She didn’t look at him. She just went on answering the prosecutor’s questions, her assertiveness contrasting with the mortified way she’d told of Teron’s alleged acts when she was 7. She was still mortified on the stand: you could measure it by the way her voice dimmed every time she had to refer to body parts or sexual acts, as no 11 year old would want to, let alone have reason to. But she was remarkably composed, perhaps betraying some of the coaching she’d received.
The defense attorney attempted to impeach her–make her look like a liar to the jury. He failed, because the way she came across, her inconsistencies were nothing unordinary in the recollections of a 7 year old, or of an 11 year old, or of whenever she’d been deposed in between. Then and there on the stand, she looked honest with every answer, whether saying she didn’t remember something, which she said often, or saying she didn’t remember it precisely, or saying she remembered certain things precisely–the sort of thing no memory could possibly forget, like the “milk” that came out of the “pee-pee stick” and “sprayed” her, and forced her to go to the bathroom to rinse her mouth out.
There were inconsistencies between what she’d said at different stages over the years, even a bit of inconsistency on whether something had happened at Disney or not, where the family had vacationed together, or even in Palm Coast. But in the end, today, on the stand, even those inconsistencies seemed no different than the memory lapses of most adults remembering most things, depraved things especially. Hadn’t Teron told her it was their “little secret”? Hadn’t she kept their “little secret” all those years–an act that by itself calls on one’s memory to rearrange, dissimulate, dismiss, pretend it’s not happening, as she had pretended ton her own sister, her own parents, for a long time?
The jury today got to see two Megans: the Megan of the videos, when she was 8, remembering what had happened when she was 7 and earlier, and since, and the Megan of today–a young child either way who, according to the defense, then and now is falsely accusing her uncle. But why would she be? For the defense, the day’s testimony and evidence failed to breach Megan’s credibility. It also undercut the credibility of the claims the defense made in its opening statement.
But the defense has yet to put on its case. Today and Wednesday are all the prosecution’s case.
In the first video from 2020, Megan’s mother and father walk in a bit apprehensively: their two daughters had been fighting about keeping secrets. Their parents are not yet aware of the gravity of what they’re about to hear. They are careful not to upset Megan further than she already is: her slightly older sister (an off-screen hero in all this, assuming the allegations are valid) had learned the secret and forced her to speak of it to her parents. Whether her parents were aware that they had to ask the most difficult and revolting questions they’d ever had to ask their child before they entered the room is unclear. What is clearer, and somewhat startling, is the calm they maintain once they do hear the allegations.
In the early part of the first video, Megan burrows under a blanket, again literally looking for cover. She thinks she’s in trouble. She thinks she’s done wrong. She thinks she has to apologize to her parents.
Megan’s mother in the video is composed and almost clinically neutral (she is a surgeon). In the courtroom, she’s in tears. Victim’s Advocate Knoeidia Hill, sitting in the first row in the audience, has to catch a bailiff’s attention to get a box of tissues to the witness. Megan hasn’t yet said a word.
Then, little by little, her parents gently ask questions, her mother almost expertly so–more like a child protection team interviewer than a parent who’s just found out that her child had been serially molested or raped, and by a man she’d trusted and invited in her home and sent her child overnight to his. “[T]he phrasing of the questions was neither suggestive nor inappropriate,” the court found in an order finding the videos admissible. “The questions were mostly open ended and properly responsive to the victim’s specific answers.”
As she would in court this afternoon, the Megan in the video speaks of the way Teron had her play with his “pee-pee stick,” how “it became a habit,” how “I guess he was my uncle, and I always thought I could trust him.” Much of the video is difficult to hear. A transcript was provided jurors. There are also inconsistencies, as might be expected when an 8-year-old is recalling year-old, two-year-old, three-year-old incidents from her short life.
“I don’t know if we did it or not,” she says of the trip to Florida, a key statement Harley Brook, Teron’s attorney, wants the jury to hear most of all, because if there’s any reasonable doubt that a sexual assault happened in Flagler County, the jury may not convict under the law, even though there may be plenty of evidence that assaults took place elsewhere: the charges relate exclusively to what took place in Palm Coast–not at Disney, not in Massachusetts, not during a vacation in a bungalow in Maine, not to two other girls, now adults, who say Teron did the same to them when they were Megan’s age, in the 1980s in Puerto Rico.
But that’s just one statement–“I don’t know if we did it or not”–warped between numerous other more incriminating statements in the two videos. “Most of it, in fact, would be inculpatory, not exculpatory,” even Teron’s attorney had to admit, referring to the video clips before the jury was in the room. “I would love to be able to pick and choose but in all fairness, I believe the whole thing needs to be played.”
“There’s going to be inconsistencies, there’s going to be maybe exculpatory statements maybe in one respect and significantly harmful statements to the defense on another,” Circuit Judge Terence Perkins said, as the two sides this morning were again arguing over whether the videos were admissible.
Assistant State Attorney Melissa Clark had originally planned to show the videos to the jury, and argued a motion to that effect before the trial. Perkins granted the motion. Then Clark changed her mind. She would not introduce the videos. Or maybe only one of them. The defense then sought to introduce both, changing the nature of the request from the court: prosecutors have more leeway to introduce certain types of evidence than do defense attorneys. But in this case Perkins could find no prohibition against the defense showing the videos. So just as the day was set to begin, it looked like Brook would use the videos as defense exhibits.
Clark outflanked him: her first witness was Megan’s mother, and Clark spent the morning and parts of the afternoon replaying both videos, plus a very long “controlled call” between Megan’s mother and Teron about the allegations–a call set up by Flagler County Sheriff’s detective Augustin Rodriguez, who investigated the case. By playing the videos first, she hoped to neutralize their use as a defense weapon, since she could frame questions about them to Megan’s mother–and get to ask her yet more questions after the defense cross-examined her.
Speaking mostly in Spanish–a pair of simultaneous translators in the courtroom are interpreting the entire trial proceedings in Spanish for Teron–Teron in the controlled call defends himself and blames Megan’s own behavior, even after Megan’s mother asks him: how could an 8-year-old know how to “manipulate a penis,” make a “motion that no 8 year old knows how to do,” and cause it to make “milk,” as Megan’s mother put it, using her child’s words. “I don’t get it,” she tells Teron. He does not diverge from what the prosecution claims were “self-serving statements.”
By then the jury had also heard Megan make the sort of statement that the defense is using to turn the tables on the girl: “After I kind of got the habit, after a couple of years, I started asking him if we can do it,” she is heard saying in the video.
“The child behaved inappropriately,” Brook had told the jury in his opening argument this morning, referring to an incident when Megan allegedly grabbed Teron’s penis in the shower. Brook then qualified: “I don’t want to ever, ever, say that the child can invite inappropriate sexual behavior toward her. That’s not it.”
But that was precisely what he was implying even as he was denying it. He didn’t even have recourse to innuendo as he proceeded to tell the jury: “You will hear in this trial that yes, that incident did occur, and in fact, speaking specifically about that shower incident, where the child barges into the shower and grabs my client’s penis, he yells out” to his wife, and she has to “literally take the child away from him.”
The child as predator: whether the girl was doing something consciously or not, the defense would seek to portray her, not Teron, as the aggressor. Teron would be portrayed as the good uncle who parries the aggression, and now has to deal with the scurrilous consequences of a child’s lies, or of an innocently treacherous imagination unknowingly ruining lives. It’s not unheard of. (It’s the premise of Ian McEwan’s Atonement, one of the most celebrated novels of the last generation.)
But the leap from the evidence as presented at least so far–the videos, the controlled call, the mother’s testimony, Megan’s own–to the defense’s claim itself requires a suspension of disbelief. It would turn an 8-year-old girl in the video, now 11, into a remarkably precise, explicit and self-incriminating fabulist of adult-themed porn, while portraying her uncle as the only adult male to have been the subject of her sexual aggression, and the only one about whom Megan felt compelled to keep a secret.
Judge Perkins in an order had seen no fabrications on the girl’s part: “After careful review of the child’s description of the incident and the context in which it was made,” he wrote after reviewing one of the videos, “the court can detect no ulterior or improper motivation by the child to fabricate her statements, get her uncle in trouble or gain an advantage in any family dispute through her accusations. To the contrary, [Megan] described her close and otherwise normal relationship with the Defendant. She was also understandably reluctant and, perhaps, embarrassed to disclose the details of her molestation.”
It was difficult to see after today how the jury would see much fabrication, except from the defense.
Of course, the verdict must be unanimous. It only takes one juror to have enough doubt either to force a verdict toward convictions on lesser charges, or to result in a hung jury. And six of the jurors have no children, a potential advantage for the defense that the prosecution would have to overcome, since it cannot depend exclusively on parental instincts.
But convictions on lesser charges won’t help Teron: at his age, he’d still face a steep enough sentence that it would amount to a life term, even if it isn’t one. So anything short of an acquittal, including a hung jury–which won’t free him from the Flagler County jail, where Teron has been held since January–would be a defeat.
The jury watched the videos twice today–once without a transcript, one with. It saw and heard Megan worry that her parents would be mad at her, and say she was sorry about keeping the secret, and tell her parents she could have said no.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry that we didn’t see anything happening,” her mother tells her.
“He’ll never do it again, that’s a promise,” her father says.
And that was before Megan took the stand and the jury saw her keeping command of her testimony and keeping command of herself better than the man accused to be her tormentor, a few feet away from both jury and alleged victim.
(*) The name of the alleged victim has been changed.
- Jurors Seated in Teron Sex Abuse Case After a Day of Triggered Anxieties and Traumas
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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.