Gwinnett Daily Post
Foster father vindicated by jury’s acquittal
53-year-old Ronald William Shelton never stopped saying he didn’t do it, but hearing the words”not guilty” spoken aloud Friday was apparently overwhelming. He collapsed on the floor and began experiencing chest pains.
September 25, 2006
By Andria Simmons
LAWRENCEVILLE — The shock and strain of vindication became almost too much to bear for a former Gwinnett County foster father who for three years maintained he was innocent of child molestation charges.
Since the first accusation surfaced in 2003, 53-year-old Ronald William Shelton never stopped saying he didn’t do it, but hearing the words”not guilty” spoken aloud Friday by a Gwinnett County jury foreman was apparently overwhelming. He collapsed on the floor and began experiencing chest pains.
“To finally hear a jury return a verdict that is based on the truth after they have heard all the circumstances of the case, it was just overwhelming to him,” said Shelton’s attorney, Doug Peters. “It was more than he could handle. He stretched over his chair backwards with his eyes rolled back and went right down to the floor.”
After being rushed to the Gwinnett Medical Center emergency room, doctors determined that Shelton probably had an anxiety attack, Peters said. Shelton was released from the hospital later that evening.
Peters said Shelton wants to speak out about what happened to him and why he’ll never again be a foster father. However, Shelton and his family were still “too devastated” by their arduous experience Monday. Shelton entrusted Peters with speaking for him, Peters said.
Shelton and his wife, Lynn, his high-school sweetheart, decided to open their home in Lawrenceville to foster children in March 1994. Their eldest son had gone off to college, leaving an empty bedroom. Their two younger sons, both teenagers, were still living at home.
For the next nine years, 30 to 40 displaced children of all ages would stay with the Sheltons for varying lengths of time. Shelton thought of the experience as a way to give back to the community, Peters said. Both he and his wife have been employed for more than 30 years with Avon, where Shelton is a truck unloader and Lynn works in an office.
“They were certainly people of modest means, but they thought what they had to provide were beyond material things like guidance and support that these children did not otherwise have,” Peters said.
In 1994, three siblings came to live with the Sheltons –two boys, ages1 and 2, and a 6-year-old girl. The children had been placed in the foster care system because their parents were alcoholics and drug addicts, according to the Gwinnett County District Attorney’s Office.
By all appearances, they blended well into the family. The children attended programs at a local YMCA and seemed happy, as several witnesses including their DFCS case worker would later testify at trial. The children lived with the Sheltons until 1999, when they were adopted by another family.
Over the next several years, the children kept in touch with their old foster parents, continuing to make daytime and overnight visits, and take short trips with the Sheltons to their vacation home at Lake Oconee, Peters said. The girl also baby-sat on several occasions for some of Shelton’s new foster children.
It wasn’t until four years later in June 2003 when the girl, by then a 15-year-old, told a boyfriend that Shelton had molested her. A few months later, she told her mother, who reported the allegations to police.
Shelton was arrested on child molestation and aggravated child molestation charges and released on bond. At the time, her younger brothers were questioned about whether they had been touched inappropriately. Both boys said they had not.
Yet a year and a half later, as his lawyers were preparing for a hearing in the molestation case, the girl’s youngest brother, then 10, came forward claiming Shelton had also sexually assaulted him. Once again, Shelton was locked up temporarily on similar charges and released on bond to await his day in court.
Peters said Shelton passed an independent lie-detector test performed by a former FBI polygraph examiner. He also submitted to a psychosexual evaluation at the Behavioral Medicine Institute of Atlanta, which determined he was not a pedophile, Peters said. However, such tests are considered inadmissible in jury trials in Georgia.
During the trial which began Sept. 11, defense attorneys called a series of four witnesses who testified on behalf of Shelton including the director of a child care facility where the children had stayed during the day, a YMCA counselor, a DFCS case worker who had been assigned to the children and another family that had previously considered adopting the children.
“All four of them had no personal relationship with Shelton,” Peters said. “All confirmed the behavior and conduct of these children was an indication they loved the Sheltons and wanted to stay with them.
“So why would any child dream up such things? Prosecutors believed, and still maintain, that the kids were telling the truth, said Assistant District Attorney Tracie Hobbs. They pressed on with the accusations during the trial.
However, Peters said he believes the teenage girl only made an outcry years later because she got into trouble with her adoptive parents about her relationship with a boyfriend. Peters believes the other boy came forward later because he was hearing discussions about the hearings that were being scheduled.
“We believe the influence on him created false memories that caused him to make a report,” Peters said. “Research by experts in the field shows that is definitely a phenomenon that happens.
“Prosecutors told jurors they should not discount the word of the children, and they should take into consideration Shelton’s own testimony on the witness stand. Shelton had testified that the girl who accused him was not a liar and she was “a good girl,” Hobbs said.
“He agreed to everything (the girl) said on the stand except the abuse, except what gets him in trouble,” Hobbs told jurors during her closing statement.
When the jury began deliberations Thursday, they had listened to nine days worth of testimony. There was plenty of evidence for them to consider. The jury deliberated for a day and a half before returning a not guilty verdict on all counts.
And although he’s now a free man, Shelton remains devastated by the accusations, Peters said. Shelton and his wife will never again take in foster children, Peters added.
“He was falsely accused of these offenses, and if he had been found guilty he would be in prison for the rest of his life,” Peters said. “Under no circumstances would he ever put himself in any position to be falsely accused again.”