DA’s office seeks justice for child victims
♦ Latest conviction a rare example of abundance of evidence in child molestation case
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.