Jury acquits man of molesting girl

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By Tom Wilmoth

A Bedford County jury found 35-year-old Keith Lee Dotson not guilty Tuesday on three felony sex offense counts involving a girl under the age of 13 years old.

The jury, which deliberated for less than an hour, acquitted Dotson on counts of attempted rape, aggravated sexual battery and forcible sodomy. Dotson, who was arrested last February, still faces three counts of forcible sodomy, one count of aggravated sexual battery and five counts of animate object sexual penetration in connection with the alleged assault of another girl.

The trial lasted most of Tuesday in Bedford County Circuit Court. Chief Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Wes Nance said he was appreciative of the jury's service, but disappointed with the verdict. He said the other charges against Dotson will be evaluated as to whether prosecution on them will be pursued.

Originally Dotson had been scheduled to stand trial for all of the charges at once, but a motion by his attorney, David W. Steidle of Roanoke, to hold separate trials on the various charges was granted earlier this summer.

Steidle was obviously pleased with the jury's verdict last Tuesday, adding that Dotson has maintained his innocence since being charged. "We'll take this one at a time," he said of dealing with the charges.

Steidle said the strategy from the start was to have the trials separated, if possible. When that ruling was handed down by Judge James Updike at a motion's hearing, it was estimated that Dotson could face as many as eight jury trials on the various charges.

The girl testified that Dotson had molested her while she slept last December. But Dotson's attorney questioned that testimony, pointing out differences from Tuesday's testimony from that that was offered during a preliminary hearing on the case.

Nance, however, questioned Dotson's credibility, noting statements that he "didn't recall" or "recollect" events and a statement by him that he didn't "take her as a liar," speaking of the 12-year-old girl.

During his closing arguments, Nance told the jury that the 13-year-old girl who had testified before them about the alleged charges had told the truth.

Steidle, however, told the jury that the actual facts of the allegations were improbable and questioned the girl's credibility. He said the story had been an attempt by the girl "to punish" Dotson, calling it "an elaborate story," and noting that the charges were made weeks after the incident allegedly occurred.

Juror Jody Eckart, 38, said the case came down to reasonable doubt. "We do feel sorry for the girl," Eckart said. "We just didn't feel like it was proven. ...It was just a question of whether you believe him or you believe her."

She said the jury was pretty unified on acquitting him of the sodomy and attempted rape charges, with the only debate on the aggravated sexual battery charge.

"We were sympathetic to the victim and her family," Eckart said. "I felt like there was a bigger picture than what we were seeing."

No trial dates on the remaining charges has been set.