There was a blunt turning point against Monserrate Teron this afternoon in his trial on capital charges of raping a 7-year-old child in his Palm Coast home four years ago. The defense, looking deflated and disarmed, knew it. It will have trouble recovering as it puts on its case on Thursday. The state rested today.
If the 59-year-old Teron is to be convicted on those charges, which would result in two mandatory life terms, it will in part be as a result of the door his defense opened to the unexpected introduction of the single-most damning piece of hard evidence against Teron: a 2015 Facebook message from one of his long-ago alleged victim–not the one at the center of this week’s trial–calling him a “rapist” and a “miserable” person.
The author of the message testified today not because she has anything to do with Megan (*), the now-11-year-old girl Teron is accused of abusing and raping, but because what happened to her and her sister decades ago–K.A. and L.D.– had so many similarities to what happened to Megan.
K.A. is 43 and lives in Windermere, where she works in health care. When she was 6 or 7, in the late 1980s, she lived in Puerto Rico. Teron was married to her aunt, a marriage since dissolved. He lived next door. K.A. testified today that he invited her up to his bedroom, got naked, took off her shirt, and asked her to help him masturbate. She ran out, scared.
Her sister testified to far more abusive acts. But before she did so, Derek Maines, one of Teron’s two defense attorneys, cross-examined K.A. He asked her how she’d heard of Teron’s case in Palm Coast after all these years. K.A. said her mother saw articles about his arrest and sent them to him. Much as Maines denied it, the insinuation, Assistant State Attorney Melissa Clark argued to the judge–out of hearing of the jury–was that K.A. fabricated her story after reading the articles. By making that implication–by the defense opening that door–Clark argued she had the right to introduce evidence proving the insinuation wrong. Circuit Judge Terence Perkins agreed.
And K.A. told the story to the jury. In 2015, long before Teron’s arrest, Teron happened to see K.A.’s mother, who was working at Walmart in Daytona Beach. On Jan. 9, 2015, K.A. sent him a private Facebook message. It was in Spanish. She translated it for the jury: “Disappear from our life, from our area, and don’t you ever come close to us again, or you’re going to go to jail, disgusting rapist. And I’m sending this message private now. Next time I’m going to make it public. Try now to abuse us, miserable.”
Harley Brook, Teron’s lead defense attorney, did not contest the authenticity of the message, though nothing in K.A.’s demeanor suggested for a moment that she was in it for the performance. She was steeled in visible, unspoken anger.
And that was just before her sister L.D. testified–more openly angry and so upset by Teron’s behavior as she spoke that she repeatedly called him out, asking the court why he was smiling, why he was shaking his head, why he was staring at her, to the point that Perkins had to clear the room of jurors and address the defense to ensure that “we will get through this.” Teron switched places with one of his attorneys to edge himself two feet further away from the witness stand, but his distance from acquittal had just leaped to the measure of his potential sentence.
Earlier in the day Perkins almost angrily reprimanded a woman in the audience for shaking her head or making expressions that could telegraph what she felt to the jury. He ordered her to stop so he wouldn’t have to throw her out of the courtroom. It was Teron’s adult daughter, who with her husband has been attending every moment of the trial since the start of jury selection. Thankfully for Teron, the judge had cleared the courtroom of jurors before his admonition.
Going into the trial Clark had the immense difficulty of making a capital case against a man based on the testimony of an 11 year old recalling alleged incidents when she was 7 and younger, without physical evidence, without witnesses, and in spite of the potential haze of prepubescent memories.
Even without the testimonies of K.A. and L.D., Clark had built a powerful case centered on Megan herself. Three times in two days, the 12-member jury saw Megan describe how her uncle Monserrate Teron, in his 50s, and since she was in kindergarten, sexually abused and assaulted her until she was 7, in Palm Coast and Massachusetts.
Megan is now 11. On Tuesday, the jury saw her in two home-interior surveillance videos describe the incidents to her parents as she disclosed them for the first time, mortified, when she was 8. The jury then saw a far more poised and assertive, if reserved, Megan as she testified to the incidents in person, on the witness stand, never losing her cool or the thread of her thoughts, never seeming anything but honest even when the defense tried to catch her in lies.
Today the jury watched the nearly hour-long interview she gave a forensic psychologist in Massachusetts, when she was 8 and a half, and spoke precisely and clearly about the same incidents even then. In that interview the jury saw a child talk about how she was going to turn 9 soon, about the house in Maine and how she loves to swim up there, about the wetlands behind her house in Massachusetts that send snapping turtles visiting, and how the family adopted several, though a few died. The jury saw her describe Halloween at school with its bouncy house (before they “ruined it” by eliminating the bouncy house) and her American Girls doll collection: “I have like nine, and they’re like $100 each.” And it saw her describe how her mother set up the playroom for homeschooling during the pandemic.
Then, with forensic psychologist Patricia Snyder-Matthews asking the questions with the sequence and skills of an expert who’s interviewed innumerable child and adult victims of sexual assault, the jury saw the joy in Megan’s face vanish and heard Megan’s voice immediately drop to just above a whisper as she clutched the teddy bear she calls Teddy and described the way Teron “made me do things that I know I shouldn’t have done,” blaming herself even then.
The descriptions were graphic in a child’s language, punctuated by her loudly audible signs between sentences. “He would just stick his pee-pee stick out of his pants and let me play with it.” “Sometimes some sort of milk would come out of it.” “At first I didn’t want to do it then he just persuaded me. He just kept on begging and asking and asking and asking.” “He would lick his thumb and put it in my pee-pee hole.”
As he had when Megan testified in court Tuesday, Teron today fidgeted, looked up and down, shifted in his seat and tried to just stare but generally didn’t manage.
Repeatedly, Megan said it happened in Florida and at her home in Massachusetts. But she was certain it happened in Florida–at Teron’s home in Palm Coast. Legally, that has to be asserted if the jury is to convict on charges filed by the State Attorney’s Office in Flagler County. The jury can’t convict based on what may have happened in Massachusetts or Puerto Rico or elsewhere. It has to be Palm Coast. And today, as she had in person on Tuesday, Megan left no doubt, and the defense didn’t even try to dispel the certainty.
Instead, it tried to impeach Megan in absentia. “Would you say it’s accurate to say that throughout the course of this interview,” Maines asked the psychologist, “it remained unknown whether the child knew the difference between truth and a lie.”
As Perkins himself had written in an order regarding her statements to her parents in the earlier videos, nothing in the interview with the psychologist–where Megan was more direct, more serious, less playful the moment the subject turned to Teron–nothing suggested that she did not know the difference.
The psychologist told Maines that she wears an earpiece during the forensic interview and gets direction from a whole team of people watching from another room–law enforcement, child protection personnel, an assistant district attorney, a victim’s advocate and a pediatric sexual assault examiner nurse. “The whole team believed that she was quite truthful and able to relate information about her life,” the psychologist, who testified by zoom from Massachusetts, said.
And that was before the two sisters testified about Teron’s alleged assaults in Puerto Rico, and what Judge Perkins had previously called the “striking” similarities between what allegedly happened to L.D. in the late 1980s and what happened to Megan in 2019.
L.D. is 44. When she was 7, she told the jury, Teron invited her to his bedroom and, knowing she wanted a doll, asked her if she wanted one like the one her sister had. L.D. did. He made a deal. “He made me have oral sex with him,” she said. It happened “multiple times,” she said, including on her ninth birthday, when he took her to a hilltop during her birthday party. He also had her drink his semen from a glass he had readied for her.
During cross-examination, Brook posed a question to her while referring to Teron as her uncle.
“Don’t call him my uncle please. He’s not my uncle,” she snapped. It was yet another setback for a defense that by then had seen the jury listen to the Facebook message and had misfired when it implied that the detective who investigated the case, who testified today, somehow gained a promotion from it (the detective, Augustin Rodriguez, had by then already been named Law Enforcement Officer of the Year for different reasons and would soon crack a homicide case with far higher visibility than Teron’s). It was about to be faced with one more big setback.
After the jury was sent home for the day, the defense told the court it intends to put on three witnesses on Thursday. Among them Megan’s grandmother, who was to testify to an occasion when Megan allegedly pulled down her grandfather’s pants. Perkins wondered what that had to do with anything. Brook said it suggested that the “secret” between her and Teron wasn’t just between her and Teron, that she also had inappropriate sexual behavior with her grandfather. Brook, who swore he would never blame the victim, put it plainly: he said it suggests she may have been abused by someone else.
Perkins didn’t see the connection, while Clark, the prosecutor, went as livid as she usually does, at least in words, when confronted with the legal equivalent of slut-shaming. The law, in any case, forbids it. “Honestly,” Clark argued to the judge, speaking twice as fast when she’s furious, “that’s what they’re trying to do is blame this child, say this child is hypersexed, and she’s going after my client. ‘Oh, my God, he couldn’t protect himself.’ Which is just frankly, ridiculous. And also, just you can’t do that. You don’t get to blame a rape victim. Right? It’s just completely inappropriate. That’s exactly what they’re trying to do, using the testimony of her grandmother, of all people, and I just think it’s offensive. It shouldn’t be allowed. I don’t think I’ve opened the door to any of this.”
A very bad day for the defense got worse when the judge agreed, essentially nullifying the defense’s witnesses by a third, though Perkins said he would still think and research the matter overnight. The prosecution had already successfully killed the defense’s attempt to bring in an “expert witness who would have attempted to testify to the same thing–that Megan is inappropriately “hypersexed,” lending grist to speculation that something else is going on, that someone else is abusing her, and she’s transferring the blame to Teron.
All that leaves the defense having to rest even more on Teron, who, at least according to what Brook told the court today, will testify on Thursday. Teron’s fate, in other words, may be in his hands, the same hands that led him to trial.
(*) The name of the alleged victim has been changed.
- 11 Year Old Tells Jury Her Uncle Raped Her ‘Multiple Times’; Defense Fails to Impeach Her Credibility
- Jurors Seated in Teron Sex Abuse Case After a Day of Triggered Anxieties and Traumas
- In Trial of Man Accused of Raping 7 Year Old, Judge Will Allow Evidence ‘Devastating to Defend’.
- 57-Year-Old Army Veteran and Palm Coast Resident Faces Charges of Raping 7-Year-Old Girl
What a sick twist