(Delmarva Now) -- A judge cleared a 57-year-old Accomack County, Virginia man of attempted rape after one of his teenage daughters recanted her earlier written statement to police that she had seen her father making sexual advances to another daughter, who was 18 at the time.
"This is a fairly disturbing case. ... It's something out of a Lifetime movie, really," defense attorney Garrett Dunham said in court during a bench trial in Accomack County Circuit Court on Thursday, Sept. 14.
DelmarvaNow.com and The Daily Times do not reveal the names of victims in sexual crime cases. The name of the accused was also not used in this report, so as not to identify the victim.
The father said in court he had lied to police when confronted with physical evidence implicating him — saying he was embarrassed to tell the truth. He was indicted in April.
The truth, the man testified in court, was that his older daughter had come into his bedroom wearing nothing but a towel that morning.
"She said, 'Hey, Dad, I need some money.' ... She was massaging my body parts," he said in court.
He testified in court that he ejaculated during the incident.
"I am ashamed of it," the man said.
DNA evidence presented at trial linked sperm found on his older daughter to the man, an investigator testified in court.
The younger daughter testified the incident was part of a plan made by her and her older half sister.
She testified she and her older sister had hatched a scheme two to three months before the July 12, 2016, incident to ensure the younger girl could go live with her mother in Delaware instead of remaining with her father, who lives near Oak Hall.
The two daughters have the same father but different mothers.
The man testified he and the younger girl's mother have been in a custody battle since the girl was a toddler.
"I wanted to be with my mother, so we came up with some type of plan," the younger daughter said in court.
When Dunham asked what the plan was, the younger daughter said, "The situation right here. ... Some call it rape."
The plan was that the older sister would seduce her father and then have him implicated for rape, according to testimony.
The younger girl was living with her father but was at her mother's house the day the incident happened, she said.
In her written statement to police, the younger girl had said she saw her father and her older sister together in a sexually compromising position that day.
In court, the younger sister testified the statement was a lie.
"Did you lie to the police?" Dunham asked her.
"Yes, I did," she said.
"It was really all me, my decision," to come up with the plan, she said.
The 15-year-old sister said she felt guilty and about two or three months before the trial, told her brother the truth about what had happened.
When Commonwealth's Attorney Spencer Morgan asked why she did not go to the police at that point, she said, "I was scared — I'm only 15."
The older daughter who accused the father testified before her younger sister recanted her statement during the trial — and her testimony told a different story.
The woman, now 19, said in court that she had been living in Massachusetts with her mother but had come to Virginia to try to find work. She was staying at her father's house when he tried to rape her early on the morning of July 12, she said.
He climbed into bed with her and lay down behind her, pressing against her, she testified.
The older daughter said she got up and went into the bathroom and locked the door, then took a shower. Her father came into the bathroom after she had stepped out of the shower. She was wearing only a towel, she testified.
"Somehow, he got in. ... That's when he grabbed me and picked me up and took me to his room," where he attempted to rape her, she testified.
The older daughter said in court that she prevented the rape by keeping her legs together, but the man ejaculated on her.
The older daughter testified that her younger sister lived at the home, but was visiting her mother when the incident happened.
Her father later also testified his younger daughter was not at home at the time.
The older sister testified she called police later that morning, after first going to work at a nearby farm business.
It was her second day at the job, which her father had gotten for her, she said in court.
"I wasn't thinking straight. ... I finally just walked out of the building and called the police," she testified.
Jennifer Nulton, a nationally certified sexual assault nurse examiner, testified that the woman cried throughout the forensic examination Nulton conducted at Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital after the incident.
"She was alert; she was oriented. ... However, she was very tearful," Nulton said in court, adding she did not observe any cuts, bruises or abrasions on the young woman.
An Accomack County Sheriff's Office investigator testified he picked thewoman up and drove her to the hospital to be examined — but the woman testified he took her first to the Sheriff's Office in Accomac.
Judge W. Revell Lewis III noted the discrepancy when he made his ruling.
Investigator Patrick Coulter testified the man denied ever touching his daughter sexually when he questioned the man after she reported the incident.
"He said, 'No, just gave her a hug — that's about it,'" Coulter said.
"'I never touched her in an inappropriate way,'" the man said later in the interview, according to Coulter's testimony in court.
"The victim is clear about this not being a consensual act," Morgan said during his closing statement.
Morgan noted her tearful demeanor during the nurse's examination.
"That's one heck of an act to continue," throughout a physical examination, he said.
Morgan also noted in his closing statement that the man had told Coulter on three different occasions that nothing had happened between him and his older daughter, before changing his account.
Morgan said the "defense impeached his own witness" when the younger sister testified she had lied to police.
"It's clear when the juvenile attempts to take this on — she says, 'It's my idea' — she is trying to protect her father," he said before asking the judge to find the man guilty.
"This incident that she described is supported by the evidence," Morgan said of the older daughter's testimony.
Dunham said during his closing statement in court, "It's very clear that there was a plan in place."
He said the younger daughter "due to her guilty conscience, has come clean today."
Dunham said it was unlikely that the older daughter's story — about her father picking her up, carrying her to the bed and forcing himself on her — could have happened "without making a single mark" on her body, as the nurse examiner testified.
Lewis spoke about several details of the witnesses' testimony before he declared the man not guilty.
"I don't think it's a coincidence that (the younger daughter) wrote what she wrote and (the older daughter) said what she said," about a specific detail of the alleged encounter between the older daughter and the father, Lewis said, adding, "We now know that (the younger daughter) was not at the home."
The younger teen's written statement mentioned a specific detail of the encounter in very similar terms to the way the older daughter described it in court.
Additionally, Lewis mentioned the discrepancy between the alleged victim's testimony and the investigator's about where he took her after she reported the incident.
"This is a very serious charge, and it requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt," Lewis said.
Still, he said the details of the case, including what the man had admitted to — being in bed with his grown daughter — are "very disturbing."
"You need help," he told the man, before finding him not guilty.