It only took a Cumberland County jury about 30 minutes to set a defendant facing a serious accusation of sexual battery free, believing a defense attorney's contention that the entire affair was simply a misunderstanding fueled by a language barrier.
Sebastian Pascual Gaspar, 21, whose address when arrested was listed as Village Lane, walked out of the courtroom a free man. He was assisted throughout the trial by two translators who assisted the Spanish-speaking man of Mayan descent in understanding the proceedings.
It was an odd case that the accused said happened on one of the busiest nights of the Cumberland County Fair every year — wristband night. On that night, the fair is flooded with teens and children who purchase a wristband that allows them to ride free throughout the night.
Yet, the only witnesses to the incident were the teen who said she was the victim, and her best friend. The best friend's boyfriend, who was also present, was not called as a witness.
Gaspar was arrested in March 2013 on a grand jury indictment charging felony sexual battery after he was accused by a 14-year-old of pulling her close and placing his groin area against her buttocks.
Defense attorney Kevin Bryant countered that the girl was mistaken about his client's actions and intentions and that the confusion was simply a difficulty caused because Gaspar neither speaks or understands English.
Testifying for the state was the victim — now age 16 — and her friend, who was 13 at the time of the incident on Sept. 1, 2012 at the fair.
The two teens — and a key witness for the defense — all agreed that the young teen and the accused found themselves in line together, waiting for their turn to ride on the ferris wheel.
The accuser's story to the jury was that the dimunitive defendant grabbed her hand as she and her friend stood behind him in the line for the ride. As the line moved forward, she accused Gaspar of suddenly pulling her into him, turning her around and placing his body against her body.
The girl testified that she then started crying, the man let go of her hand and got on the ride. She testified that she notified police who came to the fair ride and took Gaspar into custody when he finished riding the ferris wheel.
Crossville Police Officer Kevin Wood was called by Assistant District Attorney Amanda Worley and testified that he was contacted by the victim, who was crying, and that she led him to Gaspar, whom he testified had a strong odor of alcohol and slurred speech.
Crossville Police Det. Elizabeth Henshaw — who speaks Spanish — testified she was assigned to interview Gaspar and took his statement. In that statement, Gaspar told police that he had been drinking, that he did hold the teen's hand after she accepted his extended hand, but he denied grabbing or pulling the teen against his body.
Bryant called two witnesses — Marcos Torres and Ronald Menendez — who had accompanied Gaspar to the fair that night.
Torres told the jury that Gaspar thought the two teens were complimenting his gold teeth and that he extended his hand to the older teen, which was accepted. As the line moved, so did both teens and the three men. He said when he got on the ride, he noticed the young girl was crying, but that he did not know why.
He added that he was never questioned by police.
Menendez testified that the three met at his home to go to the fair and that Gaspar had been drinking. He said he told his friend to stop because he wanted to go to the fair to have fun, not get into trouble.
He told the jury he overheard the two girls talking about Gaspar's gold teeth and witnessed them trying to converse with his friend. He asked the teens if Gaspar was causing them trouble and both replied he was not. He also noticed the older teen was holding Gaspar's hand as the line slowly moved forward.
He concluded his testimony by stating that Gaspar thought the girls wanted to ride the ferris wheel with him, but when Menendez realized they did not, he told his friend to let go of the girl's hand and get on the ride. He noticed the girl was crying and asked Gaspar, "What did you do?"
He quoted Gaspar as responding, "I didn't do anything ... I thought she was asking to ride the ride." Menendez added that he never saw the two make body contact.
"Both sides tell the same story, up to the grab," Hunter told the jury. She explained that the sexual battery charge encompasses acts like the one claimed that is done for gratifcation or arousal.
Bryant countered that the incident was a simple misunderstanding caused by Gaspar unable to speak or understand English, yet trying to communicate with the two girls.
"He made a friendly gesture that was completely innnocent," Bryant told the jury. He called the claim of purposeful attack "disingenious" and said the misunderstanding was simply unfortunate.
The jury had the option of finding Gaspar guilty of sexual battery, which would require life-long registration on the state's sex offender registry, the lesser charge of assault, or finding Gaspar not guilty.
In short time, the jury chose the third option and found him not guilty on both counts.