FRONT ROYAL – All she wanted to do, Delores Ann Harris told a jury Friday, was to protect herself and her granddaughter from a man who had been convicted 21 years ago of aggravated sexual battery, a man who has been on the state’s sex offender registry since 1997.
But the convicted sex offender in the courtroom was the victim in the jury trial. And Harris, 61, was the defendant, charged with misusing information from the sex offender registry.
It took the jury only 23 minutes to find Harris guilty and even less time to impose a $1,500 fine on her for actions that the prosecution described as a campaign of harassment against Scott Costello, 43.
“The commonwealth realizes that Mr. Costello is not a sympathetic victim,” Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Fleming told the six-member jury during closing arguments.
But, Fleming said, the state law is clear: The state sex offender registry, including details about Costello, can be easily viewed on a website but the information displayed must not be used “for purposes of intimidating or harassing” another person. Violations are categorized as class one misdemeanors carrying penalties of up to one year in jail and a maximum penalty of $2,500.
Harris represented herself at the trial. In an interview after the jury verdict, she continued to deny she had done anything wrong.
“I was dumb for thinking the judicial system would work,” Harris said.
The jury heard testimony from Costello and Rebecca Griffin about a contentious relationship between them and Harris, who was Griffin’s neighbor in an apartment building in Front Royal at the time of the offense.
No one disputed that Harris informed the state police that Costello was staying in an apartment with Griffin, his fiancée. At the time, Costello had a different address on the sex offender registry, which would have required him to re-register if he had moved in permanently with Griffin.
In his closing argument, Fleming recounted testimony from Master State Trooper Jerry Bosserman, who could not find evidence that Costello had moved in permanently with Griffin.
Fleming said Harris persisted in her complaints, but Bosserman couldn’t determine that Costello’s visits to Griffin’s residence had violated any laws.
“Trooper Bosserman said he felt he was on the verge of harassing Mr. Costello,” Fleming said.
Harris denied earlier testimony from Griffin that she had yelled out the window at Griffin that Costello was going to prison for 20 years and asking how her sex life would be after he was gone.
“My only concern was the safety of myself and my granddaughter,” Harris told the jury.
The guilty verdict was costly for Harris. She had been convicted of the same offense in general district court and fined only $50 and sentenced to one year unsupervised probation.
Harris appealed her conviction to circuit court, where her combined fine and court costs from the jury trial will exceed $2,000.
Harris, who has moved out of the apartment building, said she plans to file an appeal with the state Court of Appeals. ..Source.. by Joe Beck