Sex abuse conviction overturned on appeal for Pavilion resident
The 2015 conviction of a Pavilion man on sexual abuse charges has been thrown out on an appeal because of what the court deemed the improper use of testimony by an expert witness.
The State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Fourth Judicial Department, ordered that Beniluis Ruiz receive a new trial on counts of first-degree sexual abuse, two counts of criminal sexual act in the third degree, as well as five other counts in his original indictment.
The court ordered Ruiz released from prison last week, about nine months shy of his scheduled release on his four-year prison term. He's scheduled to appear in Genesee County Court on March 30 for further proceedings in his case.
Ruiz was convicted following a jury trial in 2015. At his sentencing before Judge Robert C. Noonan, now retired, Ruiz maintained he was innocent.
In the trial, Assistant District Attorney Kevin Finnell called on an expert witness to testify about the symptoms commonly exhibited by children who have been sexually abused.
That testimony would explain to a jury some of the seemingly contradictory behavior of a child who has been sexually abused. For example, they won't necessarily tell a mother immediately, or they might recant statements later -- what the court referred to as admissible evidence regarding a "pattern of secrecy, helplessness, entrapment [and] accommodation."
This expert, however, also testified about a perpetrator's conduct, which the court found was used to point to the defendant's guilt rather than as just an explanation of conduct.
"The expert explained 'grooming' and other behaviors associated with perpetrators of child sexual abuse," the court stated in its ruling. "Her detailed description of a typical perpetrator’s modus operandi, moreover, closely tracked the victim’s testimony concerning defendant’s conduct, and the prosecutor on summation urged the jury to conclude that defendant’s interactions with the victim fit the description of a typical perpetrator’s conduct as described by the expert.
"In sum, that part of the testimony of the expert describing the conduct of a typical perpetrator was not directed at explaining the victim’s behavior. Rather, it was presented 'for the purpose of proving that the [victim] was sexually abused.' "