The jury is not allowed to hear that James Albert Taylor had previously been convicted of multiple sex crimes against children.
A man convicted in 2017 of molesting his stepdaughter has been granted a retrial, which began Sept. 16 at the Flagler County courthouse. It's the third time this case has gone before a jury in Flagler County.
Defendant James Albert Taylor was already a convicted sex offender and felon with previous convictions for lewd and lascivious molestation of a child, rape of a child, burglary, failure to register as a sex offender, and stalking when deputies arrested him and charged him in 2015 with lewd and lascivious molestation.
But the jury hearing the case will not be allowed to hear any of that previous history.
That was also the case with the previous trial, in 2017, that had led to a conviction. But the judge who'd presided, Dennis Craig, had permitted another child in the family to testify that she'd also alleged that Taylor had raped her when the family lived outside of Flagler County. When Taylor appealed his conviction — arguing that Craig had erred in allowing the sister to introduce the rape allegation — an appeals court found in his favor, necessitating a new trial.
The trial that led to the 2017 conviction had followed an earlier attempt at a trial which ended in a mistrial when a witness, one of the victim's sisters, mistakenly made reference to Taylor having a previous conviction.
Jury selection for the latest attempt to try the case was held Monday, Sept. 16, and prosecutor Melissa Clark and defense attorney Regina Nunnally made their opening statements on Sept. 17.
Clark laid out the basics of the victim's allegation: The victim, who was 11 at the time, would be lying in bed when she'd see a figure come into the darkened bedroom, approach her bed, then touch her breasts over her clothes. She recognized the figure as her stepfather by his silhouette. It had happened when she lived with her mother, sisters and Taylor in her grandparents' home in Palm Coast, and also when the family lived elsewhere in the state.
But the defense painted a picture of a girl who'd concocted the allegation because she didn't like Taylor, who she'd said was mean to her. The girl had made the allegation after an argument between Taylor and the girl's grandfather had led the grandfather to order Taylor out of the house, and the girl's mother to tell the children to pack up because they would be leaving with Taylor, Nunnally said.
"The state's case is built on an unreliable foundation," Nunnally said. "She [the victim] never liked James. ... You’re going to hear that he was mean to her, mean to her sister … and that they didn’t want to go that day. ... That's when [the victim] says, 'He did something to me.' ... She wanted him out of the house, and that’s the reason why we’re here."
Testimony began after opening arguments when Clark called the victim, now 17, as the prosecution's first witness.
Speaking from the witness stand, the victim said Taylor would step furtively over the squeaky floorboard when he entered the room at night, and would stick to the shadows. When she touched her breasts, she said, she shifted and he left the room.
Taylor had been repeatedly left alone with the children in the house because their mother worked several jobs, according to FCSO reports recounting the girl's statements.
The mother, although she'd reported her daughters' allegations to law enforcement, had also told deputies that she doubted her daughters' assertions. "She also finds the previous convictions of her husband as misunderstandings," a deputy wrote in a case report.
The children started stuffing sheets and blankets around the victim when she went to sleep so that Taylor couldn't put his hands under the covers, according to the FCSO report's recounting of the girl's statement.
The victim also told the jury about another incident, which had occurred when she was 8 or 9 and the family lived in Gainesville, she said.
She'd been showering, she said, when Taylor came into the bathroom, took the sponge she'd been washing herself with, and then began rubbing her with it, including on her breasts and genitals.
When Nunnally, the defense attorney, questioned the victim about details she'd earlier reported to law enforcement, the victim repeatedly said she didn't remember because it was too long ago.
The trial is expected to conclude on Thursday or Friday.