A Shelby County jury on Wednesday found a former Sigel area man not guilty of sexually abusing a girl several years ago, from the time she was 10 until she was 14.
But Richard W. Wickline, 43, now of Decatur, still faces two other counts of aggravated sexual abuse in Shelby County involving two other accusers. He is scheduled for a status hearing on those charges Sept. 16 at 10 a.m.
Now 18, the former Sigel area woman, who lives in Joliet, sobbed when the jury announced its verdict after five hours of deliberation. The Shelbyville Daily Union is not identifying her because of the other charges.
Her mother held her and said she was sorry. Wickline and those in support of him were silent. When the woman's supporters got up to leave the courtroom, a young man declared that Wickline should "eat a bullet."
The former Sigel juvenile, who had attended Neoga and Effingham schools, in 2017 revealed a memory of sexual abuse to a friend and then to her mother. Wickline, a former family friend, was eventaully charged.
The only evidence against him at trial was the woman's testimony. Wickline took the stand on the second day in Shelby County Court on Wednesday. He denied the accusations and the case went to the jury.
On Tuesday, the woman had testified that Wickline sexually abused her from the time she was 10 until about the age of 14, when she would stay at his house after school until her mother picked her up after work. She gave consistent accounts of the brief sexual encounters, when Wickline was alone with her for a few minutes.
She was more specific about three events, testifying that the level of abuse increased over time.
She testified that after moving to Effingham, the incidents decreased. She and her mother then moved to Tennessee and there were no more occurrences. The mother testified that her daughter told her of the abuse in 2017, after moving to Tennessee. The mother called the school counselor and then contacted other authorities. She testified that she had known Wickline and his wife for several years and trusted him with her daughter's safety.
Defense attorney Ed Deters never challenged the woman's credibility. He just asked questions about details of the incidents. He did the same with her mother.
On Wednesday, when Wickline took the stand he denied being alone with the former juvenile. All three testified that there were always other children in the house. None of them testified that the other children or adults ever suspected any abuse had occurred. None of those family members testified in court.
Every time Wickline was asked about abusing the former juvenile or about specific ways she testified he abused her, he denied it. He said numerous times, "Never;" "Absolutely not;" "No, I did not."
He was emphatic, but calm.
Wickline testified to being too busy watching the other children, especially his twins, to be alone with her. Wickline also testified that the former juvenile had an aversion to being touched, physically, in any way, and the rest of the kids and all the adults knew not to do it.
“She would freak out,” Wickline said. “She didn’t like her own mother touching her. I never tested it."
“Her mother told you?” Deters said. “You observed that?
"Yes", Wickline said.
Wickline said that there had been four or five security cameras in the house. However, any record from that time no longer existed.
Neither attorney tried to directly impeach the credibility of the former juvenile, her mother, or the defendant. They did not bring character witnesses for or against any of the witnesses.
The defense attorney made the closing argument, that this was a classic "He said, she said," and there was no other evidence.
“In 2019, how do you defend yourself, charged in a crime like this?” Deters said. “She is an 18-year old girl, a normal kid. It’s a claim of a horrible crime. But what she said is vague and so long ago. It’s hard to provide an alibi, when there are no specific dates.
“In 2019, are just her words enough?" asked Deters. "In 2019, I can’t and won’t call her a liar, but I can point out her inconsistencies. You must decide the credibility of the witnesses. Think about the detail or the lack thereof. It is a classic “he said, she said.” Her story stands alone as the evidence in this crime. How does he disprove a negative?”
Wickline at one time ran a grocery store in Neoga and was present at community events like ball games and Neoga Days. Both the former juvenile and her mother remarked at how he was seen with a “string of kids” around him.
That description of mother and daughter appeared to Deters to be possible collaboration on their testimony, although they testified that they had not talked much about the incidents since they were revealed in 2017. He hinted at the lack of credibility of their testimony, because of that, but never directly accused them of collaboration.
Shelby County State's Attorney Gina Vonderheide and Deters agreed that the jury would just have to decide who was more credible. A female juror cried as the verdict was read.
Deters said, "The burden of proof is like in baseball, a tie goes to the runner, and the jury must acquit, because the state did not prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt."
"Of course, I am disappointed with the not guilty verdict, but I respect it," said Vonderheide.
John Curtis can be reached at email@example.com