This article was originally published here by author Cole Waterman
SAGINAW, MI — A Saginaw County jury has exonerated a Midland man accused of sexually assaulting a child several years ago.
Despite what appeared to be photographic evidence implicating him, his attorney argued throughout the man’s trial that the photo was a fabrication, and jurors ultimately agreed.
The trial of 49-year-old Jonathan O. Nettles ended Friday, June 11, with the jury finding him not guilty of first- and second-degree criminal sexual conduct with a victim younger than 13, and possession of child sexually abusive material. First-degree criminal sexual conduct is punishable by up to life in prison, and the age stipulation requires a 25-year mandatory minimum sentence.
Saginaw attorney Alan A. Crawford, who represented Nettles, said the allegations related to a now-12-year-old girl’s mother in September 2018 turning over a CD to police that she said contained an image of Nettles and her daughter engaged in a sexual act.
“The entire case was about authenticity,” Crawford said. “What we were able to establish was that it’s a fake photo. The prosecution provided no evidence that this photo was authentic. The jury felt it was a fake.”
Police interviewed the girl after her mother brought them the CD and she initially denied Nettles had abused her. Months later, she changed her account and said Nettles had indeed assaulted her, then gave various versions of how and when this alleged abuse occurred, Crawford said.
Crawford argued the girl had been coached by her mother, adding that at one point the girl testified her mother told her what to say while on the witness stand.
The girl also previously said the abuse occurred in 2017, though source information on the photograph showed it was created in 2013, Crawford said. At trial, the girl said she no longer recalled when the alleged misconduct occurred, Crawford said.
The mother also claimed she found the CD by breaking into a safe Nettles owned. No evidence was provided Nettles ever owned such a safe, Crawford said.
“What I told the jury in the beginning is this case is all about motivation, deception, and manipulation,” Crawford said. “What I closed with is, if it’s questionable, it’s unacceptable.”
Crawford argued the mother created the photo and fabricated the sexual misconduct allegations for personal reasons against Nettles.
Jurors deliberated for about two and a half hours before delivering the not guilty verdicts.
Nettles had been jailed since his arrest in April 2019. He was released from the Saginaw County Jail the morning of Saturday, June 12.
Nettles did not testify at trial.
Saginaw County Assistant Prosecutor Brooke N. Kozlowski tried the case on behalf of the people. Saginaw County Circuit Judge Janet M. Boes presided over the trial.
The Saginaw County Prosecutor’s Office declined to comment on the jury’s findings.