After a four-day jury trial, the verdict was handed down Friday in the case of Justin Riordan, 29, who was accused of Aggravated Sexual Assault of a Child.
He was found guilty on one count of aggravated sexual assault of a child, a first-degree felony, and was sentenced to 10 years in prison with the possibility of parole.
According to a complaint, on Feb. 22, 2014, Riordan attended a barbecue gathering in Miles where the victim was staying. During the gathering, a 13-year-old female, who was the victim in this trial, consumed large amounts of alcohol without the consent of her guardians and stayed up with Riordan, and two others, after guests had left and family had fallen asleep. The victim fell asleep with the two others on the sectional couch whereas Riordan positioned himself in the recliner.
At some time around 1 a.m., Riordan positioned himself on top of the victim where he forcibly sexually assaulted her and demanded that she not speak of it to anyone, the complaint stated.
For four days, in-depth and grilling examination of witnesses and evidence in Riordan's case occurred. At least a dozen witnesses testified to the details of the event in question, and considering that the incident happened nearly two years ago, many of the memories of the event were blurry.
Much of the testimony was riddled with holes and inconsistencies, especially with the victim's testimony. She told a different story to each person she spoke with. Because of these various stories, it was difficult to get a definite story line from her, especially when she would deny that she previously stated one thing and then changed her facts. The defense counsels, Shawntell L. McKillop and Jessica Skinner, and 51st DA Allison Palmer recessed a few times to remind the victim of her recorded statements, which she continued to change and deny. When the defense would catch her in these discrepancies, the victim would break down and cry inconsolably to the point she was finally released from the stand.
However, the testimony, other than that of the victim, leaned in the favor of Riordan.
The evidence, or lack thereof, appeared to be speculation at best. The Tom Green Sheriff’s Office Investigator did not follow the required and normal procedures of evidence collected, the defense argued. When the incident was reported 36 hours after the incident occurred, the investigator only interviewed five of the numerous people who were initially involved. This did not include Riordan. The investigator actually submitted the arrest warrant in March before any evidence was returned (the SANE kit) or further taken.
The SANE medical kit was not collected until Mid-March to be sent off for analysis, which was later returned because of no evidence found. The victim had already showered and cleaned herself up a couple of times before the exam was taken. Then, photos of the scene where the incident happened weren’t taken until three months later in May. No further evidence was taken then because one of the witnesses told the investigator there was none.
It wasn’t until September of 2015 that the Tom Green Sheriff’s Office Investigator further contacted other witnesses to get further information on the case, just over a year and half later. Again, Riordan was not included in this.
In regards to the medical evidence, there was nothing definitive either – all findings were general. Most of the questions on the SANE medical examination paperwork is very detailed but is based solely on what the victim tells the nurse, except the actual physical examination. This is where the different stories from the victim begin.
There was no stone left unturned during this trial.
Friday, February 19, began the closing statements and verdict of the trial. The defense began by reminding the jury of all the inconsistencies and lack of investigative processes performed in the case. The defense also reminded the jury of the lack of evidence, lack of timely statements, rush of judgment on behalf of the investigator, medical reports being biased to the victim, and lastly, the shaky testimony of the victim.
In her rebuttal, DA Palmer said the justice system let the victim down in numerous ways and implored the jury that they not let her down now. She quoted Paul Harvey, “Now you know the rest of the story.” She said she believed that the victim was the missing puzzle piece to this mystery and that everyone who supported and knew Riordan was in play to keep this all a secret. Palmer stated that the medical evidence was undeniable and that this whole case fit with the standard dynamics of child abuse.
“The truth is on her side. She can rest comfortably that she has done the right thing. She stayed strong and true,” The DA stated as one of her closing statements to the jury.
At 11:30 a.m. Friday morning, the jury broke to deliberate a verdict. Almost five and half hours later, they reached a decision. Family and friends of Riordan (there was no one there for the victim) filled the court room awaiting the decision that would affect them all.
As Judge Barbara Walther read the verdict of Guilty, several family and friends of Riordan broke down while others sat there in complete shock. There were whispers asking, "how?" They didn’t understand how the jury could have arrived at that decision.
The next course of action of the jury was for them to decide Riordan’s sentence. This was difficult for many. There were a few people who had to leave the court room to compose themselves. During this time, more witnesses were brought to the stand to speak on behalf of Riordan and even the victim made a last stand.
The victim was first up to say her peace, which was a pre-written statement stating that, despite the tragedy she endured, she was going to continue strong through her life.
“Actions speak louder than words," she said. "Justice has been served. What is done is done.”
Other witnesses testified to Riordan’s character and contribution to the community. Many of the witnesses attested to how much they trusted Riordan with their kids and how, if any of them needed anything, he would be first person to go without as long as he knew they had what they needed.
“If I was to die tomorrow, I would leave them (my children) to him (Riordan),” said one witness.
“Justin has worked hard his whole life; this won’t stop that,” said another.
Witnesses also described Riordan as kind, loyal, big hearted, one of a kind and protective. Their only request to the jury was that even though they didn’t understand the verdict, they respected it and asked that they show mercy. Mercy and allow him another chance as his family needs him. This part of the sentencing was very emotional for all, even a few of the jurors had a difficult time keeping a dry eye.
The jury was released to debate Riordan’s sentence. Approximately 45 minutes later, their decision was made: 10 years in Confinement in the TDCJ Institutional Division with the opportunity of parole and the option to appeal. Probation was not allowed as a consideration for a sentence. Riordan was released over to custody of the Tom Green County Jail at the conclusion of trial.
The case was on the docket for the 391st Judicial Court and Judge Walther, the 51st District Judge, presided. The 51st DA Allison Palmer prosecuted the case.