Springwater man found not guilty of sex charges
James Woodruff, 40, of Springwater, who faced eight sex molestation charges stemming from his behavior at a small party in August of 2011, has been found not guilty of all counts in a bench trial decision by Judge Dennis Cohen on April 25.
Judge Cohen made an on-the-spot decision to acquit Woodruff without leaving his bench.
The eight count indictment handed down by a Livingston County Grand Jury against Woodruff included a sexually motivated felony, burglary second degree; two counts of first degree sex abuse; two counts of sex abuse third degree, and two counts of forcible touching. All related to a single incident allegedly involving two female victims.
The case was prosecuted by Livingston County Assistant District Attorney Lindsay Quintilone. If found guilty on all counts, Woodruff might have received a seven year prison sentence — and the prospect of having a lifetime designation as a high level sex offender.
Woodruff’s defense lawyer, Gregory McCaffrey of the Jones & Skivington firm, stated that his client simply did not do some of the things he was charged with, and in other instances, the actions were consensual on the part of one of the women.
The scene for the drama was a rented cottage on Conesus Lake, which was hosting an unofficial twenty-something reunion of Livonia High School graduates.
Woodruff admittedly “got really drunk” and was asked to leave.
Seven hours later, when everyone remaining had gone to bed, Woodruff returned the cottage and climbed into bed between two girls. Then, according to McCaffrey, Woodruff “made a move on one of the girls.”
“She left,” McCaffrey continues. “Then he made a move on the other, who was his girlfriend. She said ‘no’ and that was about it.”
Woodruff was scolded by his girlfriend for being so drunk and then driven home by her.
“There was no force at all,” McCaffrey insists, noting that a valid charge of sex abuse should point to forcible compulsion on the part of the perpetrator. Nor did the unlawful entry charge have a basis, McCaffrey contends, since his client had merely returned to the party to look for his girlfriend — and had been told she was sleeping inside by another woman who was sleeping outside in a tent.
The first girl in the bed, the ‘non-girlfriend’ and party host, made a complaint 18 hours after the incident, followed by charges from the ‘girlfriend,’ hence the dual counts.
The charges brought by the ‘girlfriend’ were dubious in that she and Woodruff had engaged in sex in each of the three previous occasions they were together.
McCaffrey calls the trial a “goofy trainwreck,” bringing in not only Woodruff and the two girls, but also the intervening time between Woodruff’s initial presence and his return to the party. In that time, Woodruff was supposedly driven to a “drughouse” in Rochester where his driver was held hostage, resulting in Woodruff convincing a “drug dealer” to drive him back to the party. The ‘non-girlfriend’ was involved in this later scene, allegedly having to also go to the drughouse to ransom her boyfriend, who was Woodruff’s first driver.
There were five witnesses: a sheriff’s employee who happened to be at the party as an attendee, the landlord of the cottage, the two alleged female victims, and the woman who was sleeping in the tent.
McCaffrey advised that the testimony of the woman in the tent was invaluable to the defense, since she directed Woodruff to go inside the cottage, thereby neutralizing the burglary charge, then witnessed Woodruff in the bedroom talking with, but in no way attacking, the non-girlfriend.
Summarizing the trial, McCaffrey said, “The girls had credibility issues and this was your classic Livingston County over-indict everything case. It was grossly overcharged and should have never gotten as far as it did to go to trial.”
“This thing was a joke, and a waste of county resources,” McCaffrey continued. “It happens all the time here.”
One of the woman, who was an alleged victim and witness, was flown to Geneseo and back from California at county taxpayer expense, McCaffrey said.
McCaffrey questions the expansion of the district attorney staff from five to seven members since 2006 with no statistical increase in criminal activity.
McCaffrey pointed out that his client, although found not guilty, has suffered on two counts, from the stigma of having his name in the newspaper in connection with sex charges, and in having to bear the cost of his own defense.
Livingston County Assistant District Attorney Eric Schiener disputes McCaffrey’s notion that the case was “over-indicted.” He advises that it survived a preliminary hearing, went through the Grand Jury, and went through Grand Jury review by Judge Cohen himself.
“It’s not like these charges were trumped up,” Schiener contends. “We had two victims who came forward and said they were sexually assaulted and who testified to that effect at a preliminary hearing and Grand Jury hearing.”
“We evaluated it for what it was and made an offer of pre-indictment that was rejected,” Schiener reports.
The plead-down-but-rejected version of the case would have been handled in Avon or Conesus town court and entailed only one count of misdemeanor forcible touching — although admittedly would have also put the defendant in the sex offender registry, since he has a prior sex offense.
The defendant would probably have been sentenced to weekends in jail and probation, Schiener suspects.
“This could have been resolved days or weeks after it happened,” he said, adding that the defendant indeed took a chance going to trial.
A ”guilty” decision would have resulted in mandatory state prison time.