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franklin county times

Mitchell acquitted on abuse rap

By Staff
Kim West
Franklin County Times
Leonard O'Neal Mitchell, 62, was acquitted of first-degree sexual abuse late yesterday morning by a Franklin County jury, which took nearly three hours to deliberate.
The charge stemmed from a complaint filed in 2006 with the Colbert County Department of Human Resources by the relatives of a 4-year-old Russellville girl who had been allegedly abused at an Oak Street residence,
Evans said that his office disagreed with the verdict but appreciated the jury's deliberation.
"The district attorney's office disagrees with the verdict, but we respect the jury's decision and we'll abide by it. These are hard, emotional cases, and we do appreciate the jury's deliberation in the case," Evans said.
Witnesses for the prosecution included the girl's grandmother and mother, along with Leigh Nafe, a trained counselor from the Child Advocacy Center.
"A child advocacy counselor testified that (she) felt the little girl had been abused, and the state also put on the mother and the grandmother, who said the child had told them she had been molested," Tuscumbia defense attorney Billy Underwood said. "I didn't think the jury believed some of that testimony."
The girl also testified out of necessity, according to Evans.
"She had to testify," Evans said. "If plaintiffs are able to articulate what happened, it's better for them to testify."
Evans said jury members watched footage of two interviews conducted by Nafe, a trained forensic interviewer, during the trial.
"There were probably 30 minutes of interviews on each tape, which the jury watched," Evans said. "The little girl never admitted to Ms. Nafe that she had been touched, but she did tell a counselor and one or two other people."
Underwood said Mitchell has always maintained his innocence.
"Leonard O'Neal Mitchell maintained that he had been innocent and feels that the jury's verdict emboldens his statement," Underwood said. "This was probably the hardest-fought case I've ever had. (Franklin County) Assistant District Attorney Doug Evans probably did the greatest job prosecuting I have seen. He had me on the ropes 100 percent of the time."