Thursday, May 22, 2014

Former Sheriff's Officer Brian McRee Arrested in Sex Sting

Fourteen men, including a former Jacksonville sheriff’s officer, have been arrested in the week-long Operation Volusia Spring Cleaning cyber-sting that targeted adults looking to meet children for sex, according to the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office.

Brian McRee, 51, was charged Saturday with 50 counts of possession of sexual performance by a child, plus use of a computer to solicit a minor, traveling to solicit a minor and unlawful use of two-way communications, according to the Volusia Sheriff’s Office. Surveillance video shows him being wrestled to the floor during his arrest at a decoy house in DeBary. A bottle of liquor, gun, a computer with child pornography, a digital camera and an injectable treatment for erectile dysfunction were found on him, according to investigators.

Former Officer Robby Smith Arrested for Larceny of Farm Equipment

A former Minco police officer was arrested Wednesday after investigators found stolen farm equipment on the man’s property, the Canadian County sheriff’s office reported.

Robby A. Smith, 33, of Minco, was arrested on complaints of larceny of implements of husbandry and conspiracy to commit a felony.

The investigation began after the Canadian County sheriff’s office received complaints of thefts in southwest rural Canadian County. Investigators were led to a property where they thought stolen items were concealed or taken at the 16800 block of Reno Road West, Canadian County Undersheriff Chris West said.

Investigators found stolen farm equipment and a stolen pickup.

“My investigators quickly learned that some of the items found tied in with and was a part of a larger theft ring where multiple tractors and pieces of machinery and equipment had been taken, involving tens of thousands of dollars,” Canadian County Sheriff Randall Edwards said in a statement.

Canadian County investigators worked with National Insurance Crime Bureau agents and state Agriculture Department investigators using information that led to Smith’s home in Grady County, West said.

Investigators recovered multiple tractors and pieces of equipment, West said.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg. We fully expect there to be multiple arrests and additional stolen property recovered as a result of Robby’s confession and involvement,” Edwards said.

Smith was taken to the Canadian County jail. His bond was set at $6,000.

Former Officer Patrick Earwood Convicted on 10 Counts of Child Molestation

Jurors took two hours Wednesday to convict former Cave Spring police officer Patrick Earwood on 10 counts, including aggravated child molestation, in Floyd County Superior Court.

Earwood, 31, faces 25 years to life in prison for aggravated child molestation. Judge Tami Colston is scheduled June 9 to sentence Earwood on all his charges.

“I’m very pleased with the jury’s verdict,” Assistant District Attorney Kay Ann Wetherington said.

Jurors convicted Earwood on two counts each of aggravated sodomy and second-degree child cruelty and on one count each of aggravated child molestation, sexual battery, sexual assault against a person in custody, child molestation, giving false statements and violation of his oath as a public officer.

They acquitted Earwood on one count each of sexual assault against a person in custody and sexual battery.

Peter Odom, Earwood’s attorney, said he respects the jury, adding it’s likely his client will appeal.

“We’re very disappointed in the verdict,” Odom said. “Obviously, the jury did not see things the way we thought they should.”

Jurors found that Ear wood touched or coerced three of four women into sex acts between 2012 and June 2013. They acquitted Earwood on accusations he touched a woman’s breasts in exchange for not taking her to jail for DUI.

Closing arguments

Odom attacked the victims in his closing arguments, questioning their credibility and deriding prosecutors for what he called a lack of evidence.

“Allegations are easy to make,” Odom told jurors. “But in a court of law they’ve got to withstand the acid test of your reasoning.

“I’m going to talk to you about what the evidence is — words,” Odom added. “You’ve got the words of two teenagers and two criminals. That’s it.”

The allegations against Earwood surfaced last June when one of the teens told a friend. Police began investigating, and on July 1 arrested Earwood.

Odom told jurors that the teens initially denied that his client touched them, saying that’s why the younger girl was reticent about testifying.

“She made it up,” Odom said. “She got Sgt. (Teri) Davis all worked up to the point that she made an arrest, and she can’t take it back.”

Odom said the girls’ stories kept changing because they’re false. The two adult women had a reason to lie because they faced potential criminal charges.

One woman admitted she used drugs and has a conviction for giving police false information. The other was stopped for DUI, though her case never reached court, Odom said.

The defense attorney also hammered prosecutors for failing to provide jurors the victims’ phone records. Odom questioned why Davis didn’t get the records between one teen and her boyfriend, and the conversations between both teen victims.

“What physical evidence do you have to support the claims the state is making?” Odom asked. “You’ve got nothing.”

Wetherington dismissed Odom’s arguments, telling jurors the victims’ testimony is the best evidence.

“He had a badge,” Wetherington said of Earwood. “He had a gun. He had a patrol car. He had power. I can only imagine how these victims felt at the time this officer exercised control over them. Instead of serve and protect he chose to molest and assault.”

Wetherington advised jurors against focusing on what she called unimportant details, and instead examine the elements of the crimes.

Three of the victims didn’t live in Cave Spring. The victim who lived in the small town was 14 years old at the time and without parental supervision.

“What has she gained from this?” Wetherington asked. “Nothing. She has nothing to gain. No motive whatsoever.

“This is not a conspiracy,” the prosecutor added. “This is not a coincidence.”

The teen victims know each other, but the adult victims don’t know any of the others. Wetherington called them credible because of that and because she said they told similar stories: that Earwood coerced a sex act from them in exchange for avoiding jail.

“Please be the voice of these girls,” Wetherington said, referring to all four victims. “They’ve got no dog in this fight.”