MADERA COUNTY – North Fork resident Edward Lyons, 86, was found not guilty today of all counts of molesting a minor child.
Lyons has been behind bars since his arrest on Feb. 28, 2014, charged with 21 counts of sexually molesting a young victim over a 10-year period.
Deputy District Attorney Traci Wise prosecuted the case as evidence was delivered over a three day period. Wise presented her opening statement on Tuesday, Feb. 3, and the case went to the jury last Friday.
The accuser testified that she was 9 or 10 years old when the alleged sexual contact began, and that it continued until she was about 19 years old.
The detective investigating the case testified that Lyons seemed shocked and betrayed that the victim had chosen to pursue charges against him.
Lyons took the stand in his own defense, stating that he didn’t see the acts as molestation, rather as the two of them doing something they both enjoyed.
The jury of of five men and seven women listened to audio recordings of Lyons admitting to having committed the acts alleged, but he later testified that he only said what he did in order to tell the accuser what she wanted to hear so she could move on with her life and have some closure.
He also told the jury that his accuser “didn’t do anything she didn’t want to do,” and would often climb onto his lap and “tickle” him when she wanted him to buy her something or take her somewhere.
When Detective John Grayson went to Lyon’s home in February of 2014 to question him about the allegations, Lyons told him, “I admit I let the relationship go further than it should. Her interpretation is an exaggeration. Girls these days blame things that are relatively innocent, and say they were molested. I was fully aware it wasn’t right, but I didn’t attach much importance to it.”
In one audio recording, the accuser asked Lyons about a specific incident where he allegedly promised to buy her something she wanted in exchange for certain sexual favors.
“I really don’t remember that at all, but I wouldn’t put it past me,” Lyons is heard to say. “I didn’t dwell on it. That was before I realized that what I was doing was wrong. I found you tremendously attractive, and didn’t use the term ‘molestation’ in my mind. I didn’t force or threaten you. It’s not like I threw you on the floor and raped you every time I saw you.”
Lyons later testified that he only said these things because he thought that’s what she needed to hear from him in order to progress in her counseling sessions and move past her misperceptions about her youth.
The statute of limitations has narrowed the scope of what charges could be filed in this case, and with no physical evidence, the jury was unable to find Lyons guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Lyons was charged with 7 courts of forcible rape, 7 courts of sexual penetration with a foreign object, and 7 courts of oral copulation. The jury instructions required that they find the acts were committed under force or duress.
Though Lyons was cleared of all charges, investigators are firmly convinced of his guilt and are certain there are victims out there who are afraid to come forward.
The prosecutor is disappointed by the verdict, but says the jury took their duty very seriously, to follow the exact letter of the law.
“They did not convict because they did not find that each element of each count was proven beyond a reasonable doubt,” said Wise, who expressed her appreciation for the jury’s service. “Being on a jury is difficult for everyone involved, and we truly appreciate the time and energy that this jury put into evaluating the evidence.”
The accuser in this case is devastated by the verdict and says, “This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
Lyons was facing up to 168 years in prison if convicted on all counts.