Trial was set for July 18 in Flagler County Circuit Court in the case of Robert Zetrouer, the 65-year-old man facing three second-degree felony counts in the sexual assaults of the 13-year-old daughter of his then girlfriend at a house on Bird of Paradise in palm Coast. Docket sounding, the last step before trial, is set for July 14 before Circuit Judge Matthew Foxman.
Zetrouer is accused of repeatedly assaulting the girl between May and June 2014, fondling her private parts, penetrating her with his fingers and forcing her to perform oral sex on him, following the girl around the house–as she tried to evade him–“until he was able to commit his acts,” his arrest report states.
Zetrouer, owner of Zetrouer Jewelers at Palm Coast’s City Market Place, was in court with his attorney, Garry Wood, on Wednesday (April 27) to argue for the suppression of two sets of testimonies or information.
In one instance, the prosecution had submitted additional “notice of similar fact evidence or evidence of other crimes” related to the sort Zetrouer faces–namely, that he allegedly molested another child, that one younger than 12, and exposed himself to the child. “The State has provided discovery of these other allegations in the form of police reports, interviews, Child Protection Team reports, etc.”
But at the hearing Wednesday, Assistant State Attorney Christy Opsahl said that evidence, what she termed an “uncharged allegation,” would not be introduced at trial. “I did meet with the child in St. Augustine the week prior to when we had our deposition scheduled,” Opsahl said, “the child is 4. I’m not calling [the child] as a witness.” So she was withdrawing the state’s motion “at this time.”
That left the motion the defense introduced to suppress the testimony of the alleged victim’s brother. That incident took place when the girl and her brother were watching something on an iPad in the master bedroom and the boy allegedly noticed that his sister was shaking. According to Zetrouer’s arrest report, “he turned to ask her what was wrong, and noticed [Zetrouer] was standing behind [the girl] with his penis exposed through the zipper of his pants.” The boy said that once Zetrouer noticed him looking, he pretended as if he’d dropped something and left the bedroom.
“We wanted to make sure that there was no testimony or evidence that came into this case other than the testimony concerning the allegations concerning the three-count allegation in this case,” Wood said. That, at any rate, was one aspect of Zetrouer’s motion. The second aspect, Wood said, referred directly to the allegation in the master bedroom. The boy could not remember the date of the alleged incident, Wood said.
Wood was not asking for an outright suppression of the incident involving the boy, but that if the prosecution intended to make the allegation relevant or admissible in the case, that Would would then have a chance to make an argument for suppression. Opsahl said she would not be introducing that part of the narrative into her opening arguments to the jury, which satisfied the judge and Wood. But she left the possibility open that the boy’s story would be introduced later. Foxman said he would rule on the matter should the need arise.
“The bottom line for me is I want good, clean opening statements that don’t offer evidence of a prejudicial nature that we’re not going to hear about in the trial, so I’m happy to handle it mid-trial,” Foxman said.
Opsahl said it is the prosecution’s position that the brother is a witness to the alleged incident. Although the brother did not witness incidents involving touching or penetration–as his sister alleges Zetrouer committed–Opsahl cited a court precedent from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal, a controlling precedent in Flagler, that it made permissible “any evidence that sheds light on the context, especially in sex cases because there is grooming involved, it escalates from a behavior up to sexual acts a lot of times. This one,” Opsahl said of the court of appeal case, “is kind of almost identical” to the Zetrouer case.
But after some hesitation, Opsahl said she didn’t “have to” discuss that portion of the narrative in her opening statement. “If I change my mind, I’ll file something.”