ANDERSON — A Madison County jury deliberated less than 20 minutes Thursday before clearing a Markleville man of charges that he molested a 4-year-old boy.
A shaken Bradley K. Stewart, 35, exited Superior Court 1 after the verdict was read. He broke into tears as he was embraced by girlfriend Chandra Powell and brother Brian Stewart outside the courtroom.
“I am just thankful that it’s over with,” Bradley Stewart said. “I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.”
Stewart had been accused of a single count of child molestation that could have carried a sentence of 20 to 50 years in prison if convicted.
The verdict came a day after jurors in Judge Dennis Carroll’s court heard dramatically different testimony. An 8-year-old boy testified that he and Stewart repeatedly engaged in oral sex four years ago. Stewart later took the stand in his own defense and professed his innocence. In between, a female acquaintance of Stewart testified that she molested the child.
“I’m very grateful to the jury,” said defense attorney Jeff Lockwood. “My client is very pleased, and he can go on with his life.”
In closing arguments Thursday, Lockwood said there was little doubt that the child had been molested, but he said prosecutors had not proven his client’s guilt.
“That little boy is sincere,” he told the jury. “That little boy is confused.”
Lockwood focused on weaknesses in the state’s case. He said the child had repeatedly failed to point out Stewart as the person who molested him. Prosecutors were unable to produce the child’s baby sitter and mother’s boyfriend, who reported the allegations.
“He’s a material witness in a child molest case,” Lockwood said. “I’m sorry, I can’t call that a thorough investigation. ... We just don’t have a complete case here.”
Deputy prosecutor Rudolph Pyle III wrapped up arguments by focusing on the boy’s testimony.
“The core details have remained consistent,” Pyle said. “That’s how you know he’s telling the truth.
The boy “was never confused about who did it,” he said. “It was Brad.”
Pyle also suggested to jurors that, had Stewart been innocent, he would have gone to authorities to say so. His comments later drew an admonishment from Carroll, who advised jurors to ignore the remarks.
“To the extent that any of the prosecutor’s closing comments suggest that innocent persons have an obligation to go to the police to proclaim their innocence, such a statement is an improper comment on a defendant’s absolute right to remain silent,” Carroll told the jury before giving instructions for deliberations.
At the trial’s end, Pyle said, “I believe (the child) was molested, but I respect the jury’s verdict.”
Stewart said that he lost his job of 10 years when he was charged and that to pay for defending himself, “I lost just about everything.”
“I’m just glad that I get to take him home,” Powell said.
While Stewart had been vindicated in court, he said life would never be the same for him, Powell, and their four children, ages 6-15.
“I know this will follow me,” he said. “That’s why I want to go as far away from Madison County as I can.”