DA’s of­fice seeks jus­tice for child vic­tims

♦ Lat­est con­vic­tion a rare ex­am­ple of abun­dance of ev­i­dence in child mo­lesta­tion case

The Standard Journal - - FRONT PAGE - By Kevin Myrick [email protected]­stan­dard­jour­nal.net

When lo­cal prose­cu­tors head to trial on a case, they usu­ally do so with only one thought in their mind: get a con­vic­tion so jus­tice for a vic­tim can be served.

It’s not easy to get the win when some de­fen­dants come to trial and stand ac­cused by vic­tims with­out a lot of ev­i­dence or wit­ness tes­ti­mony to prove what hap­pened. Es­pe­cially when those vic­tims are chil­dren, and the ac­cu­sa­tions made in­volve un­speak­able vi­o­la­tions com­mit­ted by adults.

Yet that’s the job of As­sis­tant Dis­trict At­tor­ney Jor­dan Amen­dola (for­merly Stover,) who pointed to her lat­est con­vic­tion against a Cedar­town man ac­cused of child mo­lesta­tion in late 2016 as one of the rea­sons why her job is hard but re­ward­ing at times.

Ron­ald Shirey, ar­rested on Christ­mas Eve 2016, was found guilty on charges of child mo­lesta­tion, cru­elty to chil­dren in the first de­gree and sex­ual bat­tery of a per­son un­der 16 af­ter the trial con­cluded last Thurs­day, Sept. 27.

He’ll face sen­tenc­ing on the trio of charges in late Oc­to­ber, ac­cord­ing to Amen­dola.

The charges stemmed from a De­cem­ber 2016 in­ci­dent where Shirey was ac­cused of mo­lest­ing a 14-year-old fe­male rel­a­tive in a house with 17 dif­fer­ent peo­ple liv­ing un­der one roof, and oth­ers in the room at the time ac­cord­ing to Amen­dola.

She said it was a rare case where all the pieces lined up as they should: vic­tim is will­ing to come for­ward, phys­i­cal ev­i­dence from ex­ams fol­low­ing the in­ci­dent were avail­able, and eye­wit­ness tes­ti­mony placed Shirey in the room and com­mit­ting the crime.

“We def­i­nitely al­most never have wit­nesses in a child mo­lesta­tion case,” Amen­dola said.

Hav­ing a lack of ev­i­dence or wit­nesses when ac­cu­sa­tions are made of child mo­lesta­tion is a prob­lem Dis­trict At­tor­ney Jack Brown­ing is fully will­ing to ad­mit makes gain­ing con­vic­tions dif­fi­cult.

“At the end of the day these are some of the hard­est cases to prove in a trial,” Brown­ing said. “When folks come in, ev­ery­one wants to see a child mo­lester in­stantly con­victed. But when it comes down to it, it of­ten times comes

comes down to a child’s word against an of­fender’s word. A jury can some­times get ner­vous about the thought of tak­ing the word of a child over an adult. So when we get a con­vic­tion on these, it’s kind of a big deal to us.”

He added that “It’s al­ways the fo­cus of our of­fice to pros­e­cute these cases and try to bring these folks to jus­tice. We never lose fo­cus on that. We also have to be mind­ful of how dif­fi­cult these cases are to pros­e­cute.”

Some­times it’s a lack of ev­i­dence, or tes­ti­mony that makes con­vic­tions dif­fi­cult. Other times, it is be­cause ac­cu­sa­tions are made against

peo­ple who are con­sid­ered trusted friends or fam­ily mem­bers, and those can be dif­fi­cult for peo­ple to both be­lieve and pur­sue.

It isn’t stop­ping the Tal­lapoosa Cir­cuit Dis­trict At­tor­ney’s of­fice from pur­su­ing the cases, how­ever.

Amen­dola has be­come the “res­i­dent ex­pert” ac­cord­ing to Brown­ing within the Dis­trict At­tor­ney’s of­fice on child mo­lesta­tion cases, hav­ing won three so far, and two of those just this year. There’s plenty more where that came from, Brown­ing said. The trial cal­en­dar re­mains full of ex­am­ples of dif­fi­cult pros­e­cu­tions for child mo­lesta­tion cases.

“These cases are the most heart­break­ing to lose, but when you win them it’s the most re­ward­ing thing about

this job,” Amen­dola said.

The DA’s of­fice also has pro­grams in place like vic­tim ad­vo­cacy, which pro­vides peo­ple who have suf­fered from crimes of all kinds to give those in­di­vid­u­als a voice in the process, as well as part­ner­ships with or­ga­ni­za­tions like the Sex­ual As­sault Cen­ter of North­west Geor­gia.

How­ever, the first step to­ward win­ning those cases is that a crime is re­ported at all. Any­one who has in­for­ma­tion about child preda­tors are en­cour­aged to call po­lice now and re­port what they know, by ei­ther di­al­ing 9-1-1, or call­ing lo­cal law en­force­ment on non­emer­gency lines. The Polk County Po­lice Depart­ment can be reached at 770-748-7331, the Cedar­town Po­lice at 770748-4123, and the Rock­mart Po­lice at 770-684-6558.

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