A six-member jury stayed out just over a half-hour the afternoon of October 12 before returning not guilty verdicts on all six counts of sexual battery and molestation against Marshall Mann of Sanderson.
The swift decision, after nearly four days of often damning testimony against the defendant, stunned the courtroom, according to several officials who were there.
Mr. Mann, 48, the City of Macclenny’s computer and Internet technician who was allowed to keep his $49,000 job following his arrest in March, 2011, still has two counts of lewd and lascivious molestation pending against him. Those charges involve two other female victims who were between the ages of 12-18 when the alleged abuse took place between 2002-2004.
The jury decided the state failed to prove the defendant guilty on three counts each of engaging in a sex act with a victim 12-18 in a familial or custodial role and lewd and lascivious molesting.
Mr. Mann, who did not testify, could have gotten life in prison.
“I won’t have any other comment other than I presented the case and I presented the law,” said assistant state attorney Ralph Yazdiya early this week.
Among the witnesses he called was the victim and her mother, who gave detailed accounts both of circumstances of the abuse, and the aftermath when the couple sought counseling.
Both marriage counselors, Jennifer Ferrer and Cathy Morey, also took the stand to recount how the defendant admitted to abusing the victim. A letter written by Mr. Mann to the victim in which he expressed remorse was admitted into evidence.
Initially the defendant was implicated in similar abuse involving another family member but she recanted her initial statements.
Two sheriff’s investigators, former chief Chuck Brannan and Steve Harvey, recounted a rambling interview with Mr. Mann shortly before his arrest during which they said he made incriminating statements and insisted on talking even when was advised to remain silent after asking for a lawyer.
Ex-investigator Brannan told of conversations in his presence the defendant had with his son Michael and mother Vera.
“He was talking to the boy about things like making his truck payments and managing things, like he was going to go away for a long time,” recalled the investigator.
“He told his mom, ‘Well, if (his now ex-wife) says I did it, you can believe her,” Mr. Brannan said.
The sheriff’s department taped a subsequent interview with the defendant that allegedly contains an admission of guilt but it was not allowed into evidence because Mr. Mann had asked for counsel.
“But he just kept rambling on,” recalled Mr. Brannan.
Ann Finnell, a Jacksonville attorney who along with co-counsel Gonzalo Audux mounted the defense, was understandably elated with the jury decision.
“We thought it was a very just verdict. Mr. Mann was happy with the verdict. We thought the jurors really paid attention and they listened closely to the evidence and arrived at the correct conclusion.”
One court observer saw it differently. Said she: “The jury didn’t hear the same case we heard. Unbelievable.”