Presumed Guilty

Shoddy police work. A hyperbolic press corps. Overzealous prosecutors. All part of the ruined life of accused pedophile Tom Tornatore.

"It was irrelevant," he says. "When you interview a witness, 'Are you sexually active?' is not a question you ask."

That "other man" is Sylvester Woodland. Artola didn't track Woodland down, but Tornatore's defense team did. And he was willing to talk.

In 1994 Woodland was the manager of a Burger King in Juno Beach where Gruner worked. Woodland was making good money and driving a fast car, but his life was out of control. "Life carried me a long way the wrong way," he says, speaking in the rhyming cadence of the newly righteous. "The truth has set me free."

Today Woodland is in a drug-rehab program in Maryland and attends college. Even though he risks self-incrimination by talking about his relationship with Gruner, he believes it's the right thing to do. "Man can only judge me by the outside. God can judge me by the inside."

In two sworn statements and a videotaped deposition, Woodland paints a picture of Gruner as a promiscuous, manipulative young man, adept at lying and willing to do whatever it takes to get what he wants -- a different Gruner entirely from the young, innocent boy Artola saw on the Home Safe tape who referred to his penis as a "thingy."

In one statement Gary Crep, Tornatore's private investigator, asks Woodland about Gruner's habit of hitting on older men at the Burger King drive-thru. "Were they normally... were these males normally older men?" asks Crep.

"Yeah, from what I could see," answers Woodland. "I've seen like three or four of them. I caught him, and I chastised him. I said, 'Richard, come on, get away from the window.' A couple times I had to actually pull him away from the window. I seen him exchange phone numbers with gentlemen, and they were in at least their midthirties at the window."

Woodland says he had sex with Gruner between five and eight times. The first time, he crawled in Gruner's bedroom window and left the same way. (In one of his three depositions Gruner says it was Tornatore who climbed through his bedroom window.) They subsequently had sex, Woodland says, at a house they were painting, and in his car.

Woodland goes on to say that when he threatened to break off the relationship, Gruner harassed him, called his house dozens of times, and even threatened blackmail. "Richard was not a person of scruples," says Woodland.

When Artola arrested Tornatore for the second time in September 1998, it seemed the case was sealed. This time Tornatore was accused of having sex more than 200 times with a juvenile who lived with the Tornatores before they split up. Artola charged Tornatore with ten counts of sexual activity with a child while in a position of familial custody and two counts of solicitation to commit sexual activity. It seemed Artola had his man yet again.

Except for a little math error.
This time Artola personally took a statement from the victim, identified by police by his initials, "E.D." But Artola got E.D.'s birthday wrong, subtracting three years from his age. The boy, who was within weeks of his 18th birthday when he lived with the Tornatores, suddenly became 15. Artola never double-checked the birth date before filing charges.

"We didn't follow up with his date of birth," Artola admits. "It's a procedure I'm going to start doing." Prosecutors didn't catch the error either. When they discovered how old E.D. really was, they had to drop all 12 charges.

E.D. is a sensitive subject with Tornatore. "I never had sex with him when he was a minor," he says somewhat defensively, refusing to elaborate. (E.D. didn't return phone calls from New Times.)

E.D.'s case isn't the first time Artola had trouble with math. He was also in charge of the internal affairs investigation that got Tornatore fired from the city. In a memo to the police chief dated June 16, 1997, he cites Tornatore's involvement with a "14-year-old child" who was interested in riding along on fire calls as a reason to question Tornatore's fitness for duty. In a criminal report dated September 25, 1997, Artola puts the boy's age at 17. In Artola's final internal affairs investigation, presented to the city September 19, 1997, he makes 14 references to a "child" who spent time at the fire station with Tornatore. The "child" was really 18 years old and signed his own liability release waiver.

The pall of weirdness surrounding the case extends over the prosecution. In March, Scott Cupp, Palm Beach County's high-profile sex-crimes prosecutor, quit his job and left town without notice or explanation. "All we are hearing are rumors and such," says state attorney's office spokesman Mike Edmonson. The case has been handed over to a new prosecutor, Marybel Johnson, who told New Times, "You probably know more about this than I do."

A few weeks before he quit, Cupp managed to get a stay in the case after the jury had been seated and Gruner had begun testifying -- a rare feat indeed. "I would say this is the only time I've ever seen this happen," says Palm Beach County Judge Harold Cohen, who was hearing the case.

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