Johnstown

Jury finds Fulton County YMCA lifeguard not guilty of rape, guilty of misdemeanor sexual abuse

Tyler Benton

Tyler Benton

JOHNSTOWN – In a split decision, a jury found Fulton County YMCA lifeguard Tyler Benton not guilty of first-degree rape of a 12-year-girl Tuesday morning after a two-week trial, but guilty of two misdemeanor counts: second-degree sexual abuse, which will require him to register as a sex offender, and endangering the welfare of a child.

The jury – five women and seven men – deliberated in Fulton County Court for approximately 4 1/2 hours before rendering their verdict. Benton faces a maximum sentence of one year in jail on both misdemeanor convictions, and he will be required to register as a second-degree sex offender under state law.

I am extremely grateful for the time and attention put in by this jury over the past two weeks,” Fulton County District Attorney Chad Brown said in a released statement. “These are difficult cases to present and hear, but I am thankful this victim had her voice heard.

Benton, a resident of Johnstown, was arrested by Fulton County sheriff’s deputies in April 2019, and charged with first-degree rape of a person under the age of 13. Benton was 19 at the time of his arrest and was accused of having sex with a 12-year-old girl on April 13 inside the 213 Harrison St. YMCA’s “family locker room.” The felony complaint against Benton did not include an allegation of forcible rape or physical coercion and the document indicated the charge was first-degree rape because of the victim’s age.

Brown, in his news release, said the sheriffs investigation involved numerous interviews, multiple videos from the YMCA surveillance cameras, text messages between the victim and Benton and a recorded controlled phone call between the victim and Benton.  Brown described a “controlled call” under the supervision of investigators from the victim to Benton. 

Brown wrote that the the investigation was initially reported to the YMCA by the victim on April 14, 2019.

“Steve Serge, then CEO of the YMCA, called an attorney for advice after receiving this complaint and was promptly told to call the police,” Brown wrote. “Mr. Serge then called Sheriff Giardino, who assigned investigators from his office to follow up on this complaint. The victim testified to multiple encounters with Mr. Benton on Saturday, April 13, 2019 that involved touching, kissing and other inappropriate contact.”

During the controlled call, Mr. Benton made certain admissions to the victim and apologized for his behavior toward the victim,” Brown wrote. “The YMCA surveillance video showed Mr. Benton inappropriately touching the victim in the “teen centerwhile he was supposed to be supervising the room.”

During the trial the prosecution called 13 witnesses and the defense called two witnesses.

The trial was conducted in front of acting Fulton County Judge Tatiana Coffinger. Benton was represented by attorney Michael Viscosi; Fulton County Assistant District Attorney Katherine Ehrlich prosecuted the case.

In an email press release Viscosi praised the jury’s verdict.

“We are very thankful to have had a smart jury who reached the right decision and found Tyler not guilty of Rape in First Degree,” wrote Viscosi. “They saw through many of the government’s arguments, and I am sure they were relieved to see Tyler walk out of the courthouse with his family this morning.”

First-degree rape includes a minimum sentence of five years in state prison and maximum sentence of 25 years.

“We are optimistic this will now result in, at worst, a probation sentence and an appeal of these misdemeanor convictions is likely,” wrote Viscosi. “This is an autistic kid whose family has lived a nightmare for two years by being judged in the court of public opinion.”

Ehrlich on Tuesday said the two misdemeanor charges carry a maximum sentence of one year in county jail, but she would not say whether the prosecution will ask for the maximum penalty. She said Benton’s sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 10 at 10 a.m. in Fulton County Court.

Benton’s misdemeanor conviction may now become a factor in the $10 million civil lawsuit filed against both him and the Fulton County YMCA by attorney Ryan Finn, of the Finn Law Offices in Albany. Finn represents the family of the girl Benton is accused of having sex with, whose identity is being withheld to protect her privacy.

Finn said he believes the conviction of Benton, even though it was on the lesser charges, will help the federal civil lawsuit, but he also blasted the jury’s decision in the case.

“This is good for our case, it’s going to help us prove the assault charge and the harm to [the victim],” he said. “I will tell you this: I don’t think we’ll have any trouble proving this guy’s a rapist in civil court. We have different standards of proof. We have a lower burden of proof. There are rules of evidence, as far as his ability to testify. If he chooses not to testify on the stand and deny what happened in our case, there will be the inference that he’s guilty of the infraction.”

Finn filed the federal lawsuit in May 2019, but the case has been delayed since then in part because of the coronavirus pandemic. In Finn’s court filing he alleged there had been complaints made against Benton during the course of his part-time employment at the YMCA starting in 2017, but that the organization had failed to properly respond to those complaints.

“This man did, in fact, rape and assault a 12-year-old girl, and I believe the jury got it wrong on the top charge,” Finn said. “I’m not in that jury deliberation room, so I’m not sure why they believe he’s a sexual abuser of a child, but not a rapist of a child. A child cannot consent under the law.”

Finn said federal court rules require a dollar figure be included in a civil lawsuit of the kind the victim’s family has filed against the YMCA and Benton, but he foresees the $10 million figure could change.

“If the case gets stronger that number could go up, or unfortunately if the damage to the child goes up it could go up,” he said. “Or, if things go a little different, and we believe she is perhaps able to live a life that isn’t as impacted as we initially thought, that number could go down.”
Viscosi blasted the civil lawsuit in his news release email.

“We feel the $10 million lawsuit played a role behind the scenes, and that the Fulton County Sheriff’s Department did an investigation that was limited to finding what they wanted to find, and there was never any physical evidence that they attempted to gather,” he wrote. “A not guilty verdict was the right outcome.”

Finn said he is uncertain when the next court proceeding will occur for the civil lawsuit. He said the case could be further delayed pending any appeals of the jury verdict Tuesday.

Categories: Fulton Montgomery Schoharie, News

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