Friday, December 2, 2011

AP man not guilty in sexual assault trial

SEBRING - After four-and-half years, Wesley Noah Cook got his day in court on Monday.
A jury of his peers found Cook not guilty of having sex with a 17-year-old under his foster care after just an hour of deliberations.

Cook, now 42, was charged in August of 2007. The original charges were dropped, and then refiled a few days later.

The entire time, Cook has maintained his innocence.

"All I wanted was my day in court. I knew I would be found innocent if I could just get my day in court," Cook said on Monday night after the jury returned the not guilty verdict.

"It's like a huge weight off my shoulders. I don't have any ill feelings, this was just something where young girls said something wrong and then couldn't back down," Cook said.

According to Cook's defense attorney Guillermo Gomez, Cook had prohibited the girl under his care from having a lesbian relationship, and that led to retaliation and accusation.

"It was clear that the victim had made a false accusation. Her accusations fell apart finally because they were false," said Gomez. "Justice was finally served."

But Gomez added that the way the case was handled was also wrong.

"These cases should be prosecuted, but there should have been a better screening process before charges were brought. The girl was interrogated for four hours by two untrained detectives without proper representation. She denied anything happened until she was so exhausted that she would say anything to make them stop. The DNA evidence on a towel turned out to be from another man, and we had trouble getting this trial to court," Gomez said.

Additionally, a rape kit taken within 72 hours of the original accusation did not turn up any of Cook's DNA.

"The case was mismanaged from the start. All at a huge expense to Mr. Cook and to the Highlands County taxpayer," Gomez said.

"For some reason, they got involved with this case and couldn't see the forest for the trees," Gomez said about the State Attorney's Office.

"I really don't understand why this case went this far. My client has maintained his innocence from the beginning. He has refused plea bargains that would have made this go away several times over, and he finally got his day in court," Gomez said.

During a hearing on April 7, 2010 in front of Judge Peter Estrada at the Highlands County Courthouse, defense attorney Guillermo Gomez said DNA evidence taken by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) from a towel from Cook's house belongs to another man.

Cook still faces a second set of charges for allegedly making the two girls have lesbian sex, but Gomez said that charge should also be dropped.

"Well, this case has been so unpredictable, but those charges were for a supposed event in July of 2007, and it has been shown that the girls' testimony is not credible," Gomez said.

"We have a trial scheduled in January, but I suspect those charges will be dropped. I mean, the jury would had have to have seen it happen before they could find him guilty," Gomez said. "I just knew that the justice system would work on this one."

"I just want to get on with my life," said Cook.