WILMINGTON — A Clinton County jury found Gene R. Kaaz, 36, of Wilmington, guilty on 14 charges of sex-related crimes Friday after a few hours of deliberation.
The charges included five first-degree felony counts of rape, three third-degree felony counts of sexual battery, three third-degree felony counts of unlawful sexual conduct with a consenting minor and three fifth-degree felony counts of importuning. Kaaz was in a position of trust to the victim.
The charges spanned from 2009 to March 2015, when the victim’s age would have ranged from 9 years old to 14.
Kaaz, who will be sentenced April 11 at 2 p.m. and was remanded to jail until then, faces a maximum possible sentence of life in prison.
Before then, both prosecutors and Kaaz’s counsel are to file briefs to the court.
Mike Allen and Kip Guinan, Kaaz’s attorneys, said they would look at the charges, some of which may merge for sentencing purposes under the doctrine of merger, ahead of their brief. After sentencing, Allen said he anticipates filing an appeal.
Assistant county prosecutor Matthew Suellentrop said some of the charges may merge under the doctrine, but that prosecutors won’t concede anything yet. Suellentrop described the doctrine as when a person commits one crime and is charged with more than one applicable crime, or “one act, two different counts.”
Assistant county prosecutor Andrew McCoy said, “Our office would offer all the credit to one very courageous [victim], who I think through the course of this trial gave voice to sexual assault survivors everywhere.”
McCoy said sexual abuse against minors is often an unreported and underreported crime, adding that it takes courage for a victim to come forward.
Guinan said law enforcement and prosecutors didn’t collect various bits of evidence, including a mattress the victim and Kaaz allegedly had sex on, and said witness testimonies didn’t add up and even contradicted each other.
“They’ve thrown six years of vagueness, six years of accusations in hope that you will be convinced simply because of the weight of all this time,” Guinan said.
Guinan also implied the physical evidence wasn’t convincing because one drop of semen and some of the victim’s DNA were found on a chair that had never been cleaned but no other physical evidence was mentioned during testimony.
“What does a falsely accused person look like? What does an innocent man look like?” Guinan said to the jury, before pointing to Kaaz.
McCoy said Guinan’s arguments about evidence were an attempt to distract the jury.
“[The victim’s] behaviors aren’t crazy,” he said, responding to Guinan’s comments of the victim’s mental health. “I would submit that’s exactly the kind of behavior that you would expect from [the victim] being molested.”
McCoy said Kaaz, not the victim, had a motivation to lie during the trial, arguing that testimony showed he added “lies upon lies upon lies” throughout his life.
Later McCoy added that the minor victim was asked to share “the most intimate and embarrassing” details a person can be made to share and had to do so at a public trial with a judging jury.
“The sexual abuse of children is a crime of secrecy,” McCoy said, of the rapes, most of which occurred on a chair in the garage. “It’s perpetrated in the dark, in filthy chairs and filthy garages, against the innocent and the small, the weak and the scared.
“But sometimes the innocent grow up,” McCoy continued. “Occasionally, the weak become strong, and sometimes, against the greatest of odds, the scared find courage. And when that happens, they reclaim their lives, they’re no longer victims and they become survivors.”
Wilmington Police Department Detective Scott Baker credited Matthew Hagee, a Clinton County Children Services caseworker, with excellent work that began with a home visit.
Clinton County assistant prosecutors Lindsay Fleissner, McCoy and Suellentrop prosecuted the case.
Reach Nathan Kraatz at 937-382-2574, ext. 2510 or on Twitter @NathanKraatz.