Level 3 sex offender Ronald A. Smith was convicted Tuesday afternoon in Genesee County Court of one count of failure to register a change of address.
After deliberating less than two hours, the jury of seven women and five men returned a guilty verdict, which needed to be unanimous, for a violation of the Sex Offender Registration Act. Sentencing is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. on Aug. 8.
The Lewiston, Maine, native rejected two plea offers by the District Attorney before taking the case to trial. The first offer was for one and a half to two years in prison, the minimum allowed under statute, and the second offer was for one to three years.
Smith was released Oct. 28, 2010 after serving time for first-degree criminal sexual act with a child under 11. Subsequently, he reportedly lived on Thorpe and East Main streets in the City of Batavia, as well as in Alexander and Oakfield. He was found to not be legally residing at any of these locations.
In court on Tuesday, Smith wore khaki-colored pants, and a snug-fitting white, long-sleeved shirt which revealed a well-muscled torso. His head was nearly shaved. He's about 5'4" tall.
In his brief opening statement, William Harper, an attorney with the Public Defender's Office, reminded the jury of its duty to stick to the issue at hand and not be prejudiced in weighing the evidence because his client is a sex offender.
"The presumption of innocence is the cornerstone of our justice system," Harper said. "We know you won't pre-judge."
Harper and Public Defender Gary Horton tried to create reasonable doubt in the jurors' minds by indications that Smith was confused about his obligations and was not properly instructed about them. The credibility of two witnesses who live on Thorpe Street was also called into question.
District Attorney Lawrence Friedman told jurors the case would not last long because it is not complicated. Simply put, Smith knew he had to register his address, knew how and when to do so, but did not.
A videotaped interview conducted on Jan. 13 was played in the courtroom. It shows Smith, clad in a black T-shirt and slumped in a chair, telling an officer he lived in a trailer park in Oakfield. The officer says he talked with Smith's aunt and others in Oakfield and they said Smith didn't live there and never had.
The defendent maintained that he lived in Oakfield with his fiancee until his sister was removed from his mother's house and put into foster care -- because he is not allowed by authorities to be in contact with his sister. Once that occurred, he moved in with his mother. He didn't register there because his mother "would get evicted."
But a child-protective services worker testified that he visited Smith's mother's house beforehand and found the defendant "crouched in a fetal position by the bed with his eyes covered." He said he saw him again the following day turning into the driveway of the apartment complex and contacted police.
The length of time Smith lived on Thorpe Street was said to be four days or two to three weeks, depending on who was talking. He said he notified authorities he lived there, but not the landlord. When the landlord found out he was there, it was made clear he was not welcome.
At some point, too, he purportedly lived in Alexander.
"The place you come home to is where you live...not because you get mail there," Smith is told in the videotape.
Smith, who will turn 20 in January, replied that "before you told me, I really didn't know."
And yet Smith acknowleged his parole officer told him what he needed to do as a free citizen: Notify the police within 10 days of a change of address, show police verification of address every 90 days, go for treatment if required to do so, and let the state know where he was.
Desiree Sumeriski is the mother of Smith's baby daughter and lives in an apartment on Thorpe Street. She testified that Smith stayed there until Oct. 31 after his release and left to move in with his mother.
She was romantically involved with another man at the time and when asked if this created a problem with Smith being around, she said no, that she only saw the man when Smith wasn't there.
Horton asked if she had been convicted of filing a false report of child abuse against a person with CPS and she admitted she had. Asked if she had also pled guilty to harassment charges on more than one occasion, she said yes.
Her neighbor across the street, Jennifer Schaffer, also testified that she knew Smith was staying there and that he left on Oct. 31. Her friendship with Sumeriski was pointed out by the defense, an inference that this might affect her testimony.
The cross examination of the two women was apparently an attempt to discredit their testimony that Smith lived there only a few days because Smith had stated he was there for two or three weeks. But in his videotaped interview, he says he was only on Thorpe for a few days.
Regardless, Sumeriski's landlord was not notified because Smith claims he didn't know he had to.
On cross examination, Horton tells Batavia Police Detective Kevin Czora that Smith mentioned several times he didn't know he had to notify the landlord.
"Did you ask him what he thought was required to notify the landlord?" Horton asked.
"No," the detective replied.
An administrative aide with the Sex Offender Registry in Albany testified that address information filed for sex offenders "all ends up in Albany." There are only three notifications on file for Smith.
The first move documented is from West Main Street (jail), Batavia, to Alexander. The second is from Alexander to Thorpe Street. The last is from Thorpe to South Main Street, Oakfield. There is nothing on file about residency at his mom's apartment in Batavia.
Outside the presence of the jury, Horton moved to vacate the case for lack of evidence and his motion was denied.
In closing arguments, Horton told jurors the key question is "When did Ron Smith register?" He told them to forget about the details, the forms -- which weren't explained to the defendent -- and not to use Smith's prior convictions to decide the case.
"Cases don't get much simpler that this," Friedman told the jury. "They don't get less complicated than this."
Friedman said Smith gave different addresses and different times he stayed at them. He admits that he never lived in Alexander or Oakfield, Friedman said. He also claims he thought he could just list an address without regard to where he actually stayed, which is inconsistent with the legal obligation he acknowleged, Friedman said.
After asking to view the videotape a second time and having the stipulations of the charge reread for them, the jury reached a verdict just before 3:30 p.m. Smith will remain in custody.
A court date for other charges pending against Smith will be set at 11 a.m. on July 7.
He also faces up to five years in prison -- to be served concurrently with the failure to register conviction -- if he's found guilty of three counts of sexual acts with a child under 11.
He was arrested less than four months after being released in October, 2010 on suspicion of molesting a child in the City of Batavia.