Man, 72, acquitted of sex abuse

September 16, 1994|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Sun Staff Writer

A 72-year-old sporting goods dealer was cleared yesterday of molesting four children at his wife's day-care center, prompting anger, shock and bitter tears from the children's families.

Earl Joseph Donnelly Jr. of Edgewater was found innocent of child sexual abuse and sex offenses by an Anne Arundel Circuit jury of six men and six women that deliberated only 20 minutes before reaching its verdict.

After the announcement, Mr. Donnelly was surrounded by family members, who cried and exchanged hugs.

"The truth prevailed, that's what happened," said Desiree May, 39, of Beverly Beach, one of his two daughters.

But parents of the children bolted from the courtroom in anger, with some of them bursting into tears and others cursing what they saw as an absence of justice.

"I can't face my daughter. I promised her that she'd be vindicated in this, and now how am I going to face her?" said one mother, her eyes red with tears. "Everything is wrong with the system, from the get-go."

The parents' anger after the verdict prompted sheriff's deputies to keep jurors in an enclosed room until the parents left the areas around the courthouse and to escort the defendant's lawyer to his car.

"I hope it doesn't happen to your kid," someone shouted at Keith Krissoff, the defense lawyer, as he left.

According to testimony from police, Mr. Donnelly was accused of touching three children in their genital areas as they watched television at his house and of committing sex acts with a fourth child in a back yard shack where he raised pigeons. The offenses allegedly occurred last year and the children were between the ages of 7 and 10, police said.

The children's complaints were reported to police after a 22-year-old brother of one of the alleged victims overheard his sister describing what allegedly went on at the Donnelly house, police said.

But in a three-day trial before Judge Bruce C. Williams, Mr. Krissoff focused his case on his client's credibility and on inconsistencies in both the state's medical testimony and the children's stories.

He emphasized that one of the five children who originally filed a complaint recanted on the stand. The 7-year-old child testified that she was never sexually assaulted by the man all of the children knew as "Pop-pop," which conflicted with what she had told police.

The testimony prompted Deputy State's Attorney William D. Roessler to drop one of the five counts of child abuse against Mr. Donnelly before the case went to the jury.

Mr. Krissoff also emphasized his client's background as a family man with four children, seven grandchildren, a 40-year marriage, a steady employment record and no criminal record.

He reminded jurors of inconsistencies in the testimony of a pediatrician, who examined the children for the state.

Dr. Sefanit Fassil, an Annapolis pediatrician, said one of the four children allegedly abused by Mr. Donnelly showed injuries in her genital area "consistent with" abuse that occurred in the past 24 hours. The exam occurred weeks after the defendant had last seen the children.

Mr. Donnelly took the stand as the final witness to deny any wrongdoing and to describe how he spent his time in semiretirement tending pigeons and repairing fishing rods.

"I still don't know why all this happened," he said afterward.

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