LIVINGSTON COUNTY – John Fleming, 19, was found guilty on Thursday of Predatory Sexual Assault Against a Child, an A-II felony, by a Livingston County jury and now faces a potential life sentence.
Fleming himself took the stand Thursday morning and claimed that he lied to Mount Morris Police Chief Ken Mignemi and his officer, Officer Katelyn Sanders, when he fully confessed to repeatedly having sexual contact with the victim, now 13, at her mother’s house in the summer of 2013. The jury deliberated for almost two hours before they returned with a guilty verdict on two counts, Predatory Sexual Assault Against a Child, and Sexual Abuse in the Second Degree, a B felony.
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“Everyone who knows me knows I have a big heart,” said Fleming before the verdict. “I know in my heart that I’m innocent, that’s why I’m fighting. I’ve been fighting to survive my whole life, so I’m used to it. But this is pure hell, I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.”
Fleming silently closed his eyes and rested his head on his folded hands on the defense table after hearing the guilty verdict. Both the defense, Marcea Clark Tetamore, head of the Public Defender’s Office, and District Attorney Greg McCaffrey had given closing statements to the jurors before they began their deliberations.
“This whole trial was about credibility,” said Tetamore in her closing statements. “It was not about college students, not about yellow school buses. […] The defendant lied to police because he was just tired of being in the police station. He wanted to go home.”
DA McCaffrey gave an abridged recap of all of his evidence in his closing statements, and told the jurors that it was just too unlikely that details told by Fleming and those given by the victim would coincide in terms of place, time frame, and descriptions of the sex acts themselves.
“Mr. Fleming said to you, ‘I lied.’ It was a convenient time to do so,” said McCaffrey. “The defendant is [apparently] very good at making up stories that match exactly with [the victim’s], without knowing the details of her story.”
According to outside defense counsel, the fact that Fleming took the stand and testified under oath that he did not commit the sex acts virtually eliminates his chances for parole, and he will potentially spend the rest of his life in prison, starting at the age of 19.
Trial proceedings were stopped several times over the course of the week to revisit a legal issue that arose at Tetamore’s request. Since the charge of Predatory Sexual Assault Against a Child describes exactly the same conduct of a lesser charge, Criminal Sex Act in the First Degree, Judge Robert Wiggins said it was his obligation to introduce an ‘inclusive concurrent count’ with the original indicted charge, meaning that in the event that the jury found Fleming not guilty of Predatory Sexual Assault Against a Child, they would then consider Criminal Sex Act in the First Degree as a possible alternative.
DA McCaffrey objected and strongly opposed this, saying that it is his position and the position of his office that Criminal Sex Act in the First Degree describes exactly the same conduct as Predatory Sexual Assault Against a Child, and that it was merely a charge for the same conduct with a lesser potential sentence.
The jury appeared confused by this and did once ask for clarification, but all indicated that they were confident in their guilty verdicts when they were asked one by one, or polled, by Chief Clerk Jose Cruzado as per Tetamore’s request.
Fleming’s fate, and quite likely his life, will be decided this March after Livingston County Judge Robert Wiggins drops the gavel for the final time on this case.
PHOTO CAPTION: John Fleming. (Photo/Livingston County Sheriff’s Office)