Presumed Guilty

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

Even the circumstances surrounding the stay are strange. An appellate court granted it based on an emergency petition drafted by prosecutors stating the trial had not begun. But the trial had begun -- Sylvester Woodland had traveled from Maryland and was ready to take the stand for the defense. Prosecutors corrected their mistaken motion, but not until the appeals court had already stopped the trial. Woodland went back to Maryland without ever testifying.

The next trial date is set for August. Until then Tornatore is left to stew in Ballen Isles. He won a minor victory recently when his judge ruled that he could stay home without an adult supervisor if he wears an electronic transmitter around his ankle. But being alone presents its own problems. He can't go more than 70 feet from the transmitter or sheriff's deputies will come calling. That means he can't collect his mail, take out his trash, or shop for groceries. "If you come by," he asks a caller, "could you please bring me a quart of milk?"

He spends his time watching daytime TV (Jerry Springer, never Oprah), reading Tom Clancy novels, and firing off letters in anticipation of his August trial date. He sells himself hard -- and not unconvincingly -- as a guy genuinely interested in kids, a father figure for the wayward whose biggest mistake was caring too much. He's sure homophobia played a big part in this mess. "People don't like child molesters," he says. "People don't like homosexuals. Put them together and look out, whether it happened or not."

He's also fond of conspiracy theories involving everyone from Artola to neighbors in Ballen Isles to the city council of Palm Beach Gardens. Members of that governing body never liked him anyway. "They're a bunch of feminazis," he says, borrowing a phrase from Rush Limbaugh, whom he characterizes as "ballsy."

But in this case a conspiracy theory is a tough sell. It would require planning and execution of which most official players in this tragicomedy seem incapable. Gary Crep, Tornatore's private investigator, is probably closer to the mark. Crep believes it's come down to the ugly truth that no one wants to be responsible for letting an accused child molester off the hook. "If they ended it today, everybody's tit would be in the wringer," he says. Crep was a cop himself -- Customs and DEA -- and he knows the system is stacked in favor of police. "This whole thing pisses me off. Cops hold all the cards."

Contact Bob Whitby at his e-mail address:

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