Originally created 07/12/01

Jury finds man guilty of child molestation



Over the past six years, whenever asked, the child has consistently said Jon Putnam sexually molested her. On Wednesday, a jury believed her.

Now 15 years old, the girl testified this week in Richmond County Superior Court that, over a period of several months in 1995 just before and just after she turned 9 years old, Mr. Putnam, 53, fondled her repeatedly and once performed oral sex on her.

After deliberating about two hours, the jury found Mr. Putnam guilty of aggravated child molestation and child molestation.

"If you believe (the victim), then he is guilty," Assistant District Attorney Patricia Johnson told the jury in her closing argument Wednesday. "She has no reason to come in here and lie to you."

It would have been easier on the girl to recant her accusations after all this time, Ms. Johnson said, but, as even Mr. Putnam once said of the girl, she's the kind of person who's always honest.

The prosecutor asked the jury to reject other issues brought up by the defense during the three-day trial, such as the testimony that the victim and her older brother engaged in sexual games. It was behavior both children learned from Mr. Putnam, Ms. Johnson said.

Defense attorney Peter Johnson, no relation to the prosecutor, asked the jury to put the allegations into context because the other issues in the case affect witnesses' credibility.

"This is not a distraction. I'm not doing a smoke-and-mirror thing," Mr. Johnson said in his closing argument. The facts remained that at the time the girl first raised the allegations in July 1995 and when the victim's mother confided in an acquaintance that September, the mother and Mr. Putnam were in a legal battle over several thousand dollars, Mr. Johnson said.

The defense attorney argued that children are malleable, especially by parents, and that the girl's testimony has become more detailed over the years. "She told you she studied for her part."

The victim had to testify three times against Mr. Putnam. He was convicted in November 1996 and sentenced to 12 years in prison, but the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed the decision, ruling that improperly admitted testimony and evidence created an unfair trial. A 1998 trial ended in a mistrial declared by the judge over the objection of defense and prosecuting attorneys.

"You have heard enough to understand this 1995 case has a history to it. Please don't speculate. Don't try to guess. We're asking you to decide," Mr. Johnson told the jury.

Mr. Putnam remains in jail pending a new sentencing.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or shodson@augustachronicle.com.