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VanFossen found guilty of sex-
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By Carol McIntire
A Carrollton man was found guilty of four counts of gross sexual imposition for a second time and will face a judge for sentencing in May.
Bruce A. VanFossen, 31, of Carrollton was found guilty of the charges by retired Mahoning County Judge Jeffrey L. Kimbler, who was sitting on assignment by the Ohio Supreme Court on the case last week.
Van Fossen was found guilty of the same four charges, involving two victims who were under the age of 13 when the crimes were committed, by Judge Michael V. Repella, II following a bench trial Aug. 16 and 17, 2021.
He was sentenced to two years in prison on each count for an aggregate term of 96 months.
Three of the charges related to one of the victims and included inappropriate touching on three separate occasions. The other single count involved a separate victim and also included inappropriate touching.
Attorneys Jeffrey Jakamides and Julie Jakamides filed an appeal on VanFossen’s behalf with the Seventh District Court of Appeals claiming three assignments of error, including: 1.) VanFossen was denied due process of law when an invalid waiver of a jury trial was accepted by the court; 2.) the court erred by not declaring a mistrial when courtroom spectators were seen making coaching gestures to the alleged victim as she was testifying; 3.) the judgment and verdict were against the manifest weight of evidence.
The appeals court found merit in the first assignment and rendered the other two assignments of error mute. The appeals court vacated the sentence and returned the case to Carroll County for a new trial in January 2023. Repella recused himself from the case and Kimbler was assigned to the case.
A jury trial was scheduled the week of April 17-21 with approximately 50 jurors reporting for jury duty. During jury selection, Jakamides opted to change the jury trial to a bench trial and the prospective jurors were sent home, leaving the Kimbler to serve as both judge and jury in the case.
Following the two-and-one-half day bench trial, Kimbler found VanFossen guilty of all four crimes. VanFossen was handcuffed and led from the courtroom by law enforcement officials.
Kimbler heard testimony from several prosecution witnesses, including the two victims.
During closing arguments, Carroll County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Michael Roth, who presented the state’s case, said the timeline of the crimes was well-established between April 19, 2019, and May 2020.
Roth said the victim of three of the charges testified as to the occasions when VanFossen inappropriately touched her to include once in a vehicle, once when she was in bed with her mother and VanFossen and once when she was on the couch.
The prosecutor stated the other victim testified the incident occurred in May 2020 at a party on Mayhem Rd. when VanFossen was seated next to her in the back seat of a truck while going “mudding” with four other persons in the vehicle.
“VanFossen has trouble telling the truth,” Roth said. “Anything he says in un-credible.”
He referenced at least five times during VanFossen’s testimony that his story changed from what was said during interviews with law enforcement. He reviewed testimony of VanFossen’s mother and sister, both of whom testified they asked one of the victims the day after the Memorial Day party if anyone ever touched her and the reply was “no.”
Jakamides reviewed the testimony in his closing argument, saying there was no month or year established for any of the alleged incidents of inappropriate touching.
“There are a lot of milestones that could have been used such as near the date of a birthday, before on or after a holiday. In this case, absolutely no timeline was established,” he said.
He brought up the need of the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the incidents occurred. He noted the one victim as been in counseling since second grade and was in close contact with a number of people. Jakamides questioned why none of those people suspected she has been sexually abused and stated the judge must examine each count separately, noting he felt the state had not met its burden of proof in any of the cases.
Roth said he felt justice was served with the verdict.
“I’ve worked with these victims now for three years and I think we’ve finally closed the door on this one.”
Sentencing is scheduled May 17 at 10 a.m.
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