A state appeals court has upheld an unusual district court decision that led to a Layton couple's acquittal on child sexual abuse and exploitation charges.
David and Nita Workman were acquitted by a Farmington jury on Jan. 12, 1990, of aggravated sexual abuse of a child but were found guilty of exploitation of a minor.Nita Workman was also found guilty of obstructing justice.
However, 2nd District Judge Douglas Cornaby immediately overruled the guilty verdicts, arguing that a careful reading of state sexual exploitation statutes revealed that they are intended to stop child pornography and do not apply to photographs used as evidence in the Workman case.
He said he believed evidence presented during a two-day trial was not sufficient to convict the couple of sexual exploitation, nor was it sufficient to convict Nita Workman of legal obstruction.
The couple stood accused on all counts after prosecutors accused them of arranging for an 8-year-old child to be sexually molested by Clinton Kelly, 25, during a three-year period from September 1985 to May 1988.
Arguing for the state's appeal of Cornaby's ruling, Assistant Attorney General Sandra Sjogren said that sufficient evidence did exist to convict the Workmans. She also questioned whether Cornaby had a legal right to overturn the jury's verdict in the case.
But according to the Utah Court of Appeals ruling handed down on Wednesday, "We agree with the trial court that the evidence is inherently improbable such that a reasonable mind could not conclude that in 1986 and 1987 Mrs. Workman was aware that Kelly was sexually exploiting the child and that thereafter she helped him conceal the crime until April 1988."
Kelly, who befriended the Workmans and spent several weeks in their home each year while on leave from the U.S. Navy, is currently in prison for sexually abusing the child.
But prosecutors alleged the Workmans were also criminally responsible because they were aware of the abuse and other bizarre behavior by Kelly.
That behavior included his giving the child inappropriate and expensive gifts, including designer brassieres, lace underwear and children's lingerie. The man also took at least one provocative picture of the child in which the Workmans also appeared.
That photo was important in the appeal because Sjogren argued that it, coupled with other evidence and testimony, "was sufficient evidence, from which a rational jury could conclude that the defendants were guilty," according to her brief.
She also argued that Cornaby made a mistake in dismissing the guilty verdicts because, "The court shouldn't ask itself whether it believes that the evidence established guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, but whether any rational jury could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt."
Edwin Beus, the Workmans' attorney, disputed Sjogren's claims, saying he believed use of the photo, which depicted the child wearing a gymnastics suit with her buttocks partially exposed, falls "woefully short" of proving sexual exploitation.
Beus defended his clients as an upstanding, church-going couple who were betrayed by a man they were trying to help.