After less than two hours of deliberations at the Lincoln County Courthouse on Wednesday, Nov. 2, a jury acquitted a local man who had been accused of sexually assaulting a young girl in Newcastle in 2014.
Brian S. Merryman, 39, formerly of South Bristol and now of Nobleboro, was found not guilty of six counts of class A gross sexual assault, two counts of class D unlawful sexual touching, and one count each of class D domestic violence assault, sexual misconduct with a child, and visual aggression against a child.
Merryman, who had been held at Two Bridges Regional Jail from the time of his arrest in January until his bail was reduced from $50,000 to $5,000 in June, left the courthouse a free man.
The trial, which began Tuesday, Nov. 1, was the second time Merryman had faced the 11 charges brought by the state; his first trial in June ended in a mistrial due to an issue with the discovery process.
Over the course of the two days of the second trial, the jury heard opening and closing arguments from the prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Matthew Kanwit; and the defense attorney, Bath attorney David Paris; listened to testimony from five witnesses; and considered related documents.
Kanwit called the alleged victim and her mother to the stand. Paris called the girl’s father, Merryman’s mother, Cynthia McCrater, and a close friend of Merryman’s, Krystine Vrooman, to testify for the defense.
The juror’s role is to act as a fact finder and determine which evidence to assign great weight to and which evidence not to assign weight to, Kanwit said. The girl, now 15, gave testimony that reflected a clear timeline of escalating abuse over about three months in 2014, when she was 12 and 13, Kanwit said.
“What is the victim’s motive?” Kanwit said. The sole reason she would go through such an intimidating process was to seek justice, he said. “She doesn’t want the person who did that to her to get away with it,” he said.
“This is not about appealing to emotion, it is about appealing to logic and thought processes,” Paris said. The primary location of the alleged abuse was a small trailer occupied by two adults and four children, Paris said in his closing statement. He questioned how it could be possible that no one living there knew or saw anything.
Merryman has a neuromuscular disease that affects his lower extremities and fine motor skills, McCrater and Vrooman said on the stand. The disease, Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, makes it hard for Merryman to walk up and down stairs and button and unbutton clothing, they said, which contradicted statements made by McCrater and Vrooman.
The defense’s witnesses were close to Merryman and attempting to protect him, Kanwit said in his closing argument. With leg braces, Merryman is mobile, and he was doing manual labor at the time of the alleged abuse, according to the girl and her mother.
“It is a frightening thought that someone could be sitting there (as a defendant) based on what one person said,” Paris said. “There is no corroborating evidence.”
When weighing the evidence and the credibility of the witnesses, the jury should not find reasonable doubt, Kanwit said. “The defense is throwing everything it can at the wall and seeing what sticks,” he said.
After deliberating for less than two hours, the jury returned a verdict of not guilty on all 11 charges.
“These are tough cases to win,” Kanwit said after the verdict was announced.
Paris said he was happy for Merryman upon hearing the verdict. “He’s denied it from the beginning,” Paris said. “What is concerning is that one person can testify and that testimony could be enough to convict somebody. That’s a concerning thought.”
Merryman has a 1996 conviction for unlawful sexual contact with a minor, a 2009 conviction for failure to register as a sex offender, and a 2011 conviction for prohibited contact with a minor. He was removed from the Maine Sex Offender Registry in June 2015 as a result of a Maine Supreme Judicial Court decision.