“They are never going to believe you over the accusations of the
Those words were spoken to our client, FL, by his wife, MC, during a “controlled
call” which was being recorded and monitored by Westchester County
detectives, the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office and
Child Protective Services. Those words proved to be prophetic. From the
moment FL’s step-daughter, MD, entered the police station with her
mother, allegations of serious and prolonged sexual abuse were leveled
against FL. Though unsubstantiated by any physical evidence, the ensuing
investigation persisted for several months. Eventually, the Assistant
District Attorney indicted FL on numerous counts, the most severe being
Course of Sexual Conduct Against a Child in the First Degree (a “B”
Felony) and Course of Sexual Conduct Against a Child in the Second Degree
(a “D” Felony).
In addition to the criminal charges, FL was also dragged into Family Court
where he faced petitions alleging the same sexual abuse filed by the County
Attorney’s Office. Temporary Orders of Protection were issued barring
him from his home.
The allegations were stunning and included a period of abuse starting in
2010 and continuing up until January, 2016. The accusations ranged from
“touching” to actual sexual intercourse. Additionally, it
was alleged that FL infected his step-daughter, MD, with the sexually
transmitted disease of chlamydia and would threaten his step-daughter
after every event in order to keep the abuse a secret.
At trial, the prosecution called three expert witnesses to educate the
jury about chlamydia, “Child Sexual Abuse Accommodation Syndrome”
and the physical examinations and treatment for the child.
Dr. Margaret Hammerschlag, a preeminent expert on chlamydia, detailed how
chlamydia is tested, treated and spread. Anne Meltzer, Psy.D, explained
the psychological effects of sexual abuse on children and offered explanations
for the child’s behavior both before and after her disclosure of
alleged abuse. Dr. Jennifer Cantor, who heads the Children’s Advocacy
Center in Valhalla, NY, explained the various treatment provided and laboratory
tests conducted on behalf of the child.
The prosecution also called the child, MD, and her mother, MC, as witnesses
against FL. Both related their experiences and observation during the
period of alleged abuse. The testimony of MD was particularly lengthy
and detailed the type and frequency of the alleged sexual abuse and contact.
On its face, the accusations were horrifying and the charged crimes were
incredibly serious. If found guilty, FL faced possible decades of incarceration
and a lifetime on the sex offense registry.
Fortunately for FL, his defense attorney, Stephen Riebling of Riebling,
Proto & Sachs, LLP, took the time to investigate the allegations and
analyze the evidence. This approach raised a number of questions regarding
the factual allegations and led to the discovery of exonerating materials
in his wife’s medical records.
After each witness testified for the prosecution, the defense used the
information it discovered to conduct a withering cross examination that
exposed numerous inconsistencies in the “stories” told by
FL’s wife, MC, and his step-daughter, MD. Among those inconsistencies
was the allegation that FL would abuse his step-daughter when his wife
went to work three days a week throughout 2015, a fact that both mother
and daughter recounted in detail. However, what neither mother nor daughter
knew was that defense counsel, Stephen Riebling, had obtained the sworn
deposition testimony that the mother had given only three months before
during her divorce action. There, while recalling her financial information,
she testified that she did not work in 2015. Mr. Riebling also produced
MC’s tax returns for 2015 which revealed that she was not employed
during that year and did not declare any income as a result. This prior
testimony exposed that a major part of the claims made by both the wife
and step-daughter could not have occurred.
In addition, Mr. Riebling revealed to the jury that the child had changed
her version of events substantively each and every time she was asked
to recall the details. After a lengthy cross examination, MD admitted
that direct testimony, wherein she described events in exacting detail,
was “very much different” than any of her previous sworn statements.
She also recanted any claim of sexual intercourse, a stunning admission
and a major blow to yet another crucial claim in the prosecution’s case.
As for the expert testimony, the defense focused on the shear lack of evidence
which connected FL to the accusation that he infected his step-daughter
with chlamydia. In fact, details and test results found in various medical
records actually helped to exonerate FL on that issue. To that point,
Dr. Hammerschlag acknowledged that she never reviewed those crucial medical
records, though they were available through the prosecutor’s office,
and as such could not offer any opinions about what those records showed.
Additionally, Dr. Meltzer acknowledged that she had not met the child
nor reviewed critical records about the child. As such, she was unable
to say whether MD was actually a victim of any abuse.
After a lengthy deliberation, which involved read backs of relevant testimony
and review of exhibits in evidence, the jury delivered justice for FL
and returned a verdict finding “Not Guilty” of all counts.
When it comes to cases involving allegations of sexual abuse, it is important
to remember that there are instances where those allegations are fabricated
and motivated by other factors, including money or animosity. Due to the
nature of these types of cases, the claims of innocence and actions of
the accused are often overlooked or ignored. The rush to judge in these
circumstances must be balanced by the principles of our criminal justice
system where the presumption of innocence must be maintained. In this
case, FL was fortunate enough to have a criminal defense attorney who
fought to make sure that his rights were protected and that the law was followed.