Appeals Court Rules Justin Riordan's Conviction Stands
SAN ANGELO, TX — The Texas 3rd Circuit of Appeals struck down the appeal of Justin Riordan's conviction Friday morning.
Riordan was convicted of aggravated sexual assault of a child, a female, named only as 13-year-old K.S., in the court documents released today.
The assault was proven in 2016 in a Tom Green County District Court to have occurred at a house party in Miles. Justin Riordan was visiting with friends at the house where the victim was also. The rape Riordan was convicted of occurred the early morning hours on that day in 2014. Riordan was sentenced to 10 years in the state penitentiary where he now serves.
In a one-page summary judgment, the higher court stated, “Having reviewed the record and the parties’ arguments, the Court holds that there was no reversible error in the trial court’s judgment of conviction. Therefore, the Court affirms the trial court’s judgment of conviction.”
A 42-page Memorandum Opinion accompanies the one-page judgment. In the Memorandum, the 3rd Court of Appeals describes in graphic detail the underlying facts as presented at the district court trial.
After the conviction, a friend of the victim came forward, and in an affidavit, claimed that the victim admitted to her that a man went to jail because of her lie. Riordan’s defense attorney attempted unsuccessfully to persuade 51st District Court Judge Barbara Walther to grant a new trial in 2016.
During the original trial, the appeals court stated, K.S. “provided specific facts and sensory details as she recalled them.” And the appeals court noted, “Because K.S. was under 17 years of age at the time of the offense, her testimony alone is sufficient proof of the aggravated sexual assault alleged in the indictment.”
Riordan’s defense attorney Frank Sellers argued passionately in the oral arguments held in San Angelo over six points of error in the district court’s conviction. “Is this a system of justice we should accept,” Sellers pleaded then.
But the appeals court disagreed, and stood with the jury.
“Appellant’s interpretation of the evidence and testimony, however, simply reflects conflicts in the evidence. These were all matters left to the jury to resolve. Reconciliation of any conflicts or contradictions in the evidence is within the exclusive province of the jury,” the Memorandum stated.
The Memorandum continued, “Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict, as we must, we conclude that the evidence was sufficient to allow the jury to reasonably conclude that appellant penetrated K.S.’s sexual organ with his sexual organ as alleged in the indictment. Thus, the evidence is sufficient to support his conviction for aggravated sexual assault of a child.”
Defense attorney Sellers made an argument that 51st District Attorney Allison Palmer “conveyed her personal opinions about K.S.’s credibility and appellant’s [Riordan’s] guilt,” contrary to law. However, the Appeals Court overruled, stating that the time for the defense to remedy these “plain errors” was during the district court trial, not on appeal. The defense counsel did not object to Palmer’s statements during the trial.
The Appeals Court denied Riordan’s reversal of the lower court’s decision to not grant a new trial. The new evidence of the testimony of the victim’s friend, “T.S.” was filed outside the legal 30-day window, the court ruled. And Judge Walther at the district court level was correct in denying the new trial. “Therefore, the trial court was prohibited from considering the untimely raised and objected to claim of newly discovered evidence,” the Memorandum states.
The last points, that Riordan “suffered egregious harm from the trial court’s erroneous jury charge instruction regarding the presumption of innocence,” was overruled as well.
The defense claimed the expert witness, Yvonne D. Garcia, who was called to the stand to testify about child sex assault victims, amounted to “bolstering.” But, the Appeals Court noted, “A review of the record here reflects that appellant did not object to Garcia’s qualifications as an expert, the reliability of her opinions, or the relevance of her testimony in this case.”
Finally, Riordan’s attorney claimed that, “Garcia’s testimony should have been excluded under Rule 403 of the Texas Rules of Evidence, asserting that the testimony was unfairly prejudicial because it was ‘irrelevant, confusing, and emotionally charged.’”
The Appeals Court ruled that, “Consequently, under the circumstances reflected by this record, appellant has failed to preserve error regarding the admission of Garcia’s testimony and has forfeited the right to raise these various complaints on appeal.”
“Having overruled appellant’s points of error, we affirm the trial court’s judgment of conviction,” the Appeals Court concluded.
We have reached out to 51st DA Allison Palmer for her comments and will add them to this story.