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Jury can’t reach verdict in Falls statutory rape trial

LOCKPORT – Niagara County Judge Sara Sheldon declared a hung jury Wednesday after three days of deliberations in the case of a Niagara Falls man charged with having sex with a 16-year-old girl last year.

The jury of 10 women and two men couldn’t agree on whether Richard Ackerman, 41, committed third-degree rape, also known as statutory rape, in his home on 85th Street in Niagara Falls on the night of June 20-21, 2015. The charge can be lodged in the case of any adult having non-forcible sex with a person under age 17.

The vote was 9-3 in favor of acquittal, according to a juror who declined to give her name. She said not a single vote changed from the time deliberations began on Monday. The mistrial was declared after jurors sent three notes to the judge reporting a deadlock.

“All you can do is vote your conscience,” said the juror, who voted for conviction. “Either you believe the victim’s testimony or you don’t.”

The teenage girl testified that Ackerman came on to her after they watched a movie on TV together. She testified that after the alleged act, she went to the bathroom, looking unsuccessfully for something sharp to hurt herself with. She had been released from a hospital earlier that month after attempting suicide.

However, the matter wasn’t reported to the police until two days later, and defense attorney James J. Faso Jr. established that tests on the girl’s clothing were negative for Ackerman’s DNA or other body fluids.

Ackerman testified that the girl initiated the encounter, which he said was limited to kissing.

Assistant District Attorney Robert A. Zucco accused Ackerman of “a seduction,” and pointed to a recorded phone call, made by the girl under police auspices the week after the incident.

The 12-minute recording was played to the jury through headphones and was inaudible to spectators. But Zucco said in his opening statement that Ackerman told the girl, “I’m absolutely terrified that I completely destroyed you and broke you. I probably deserve whatever happens.”

Zucco also quoted Ackerman as saying, “I’ve spent the last eight days waiting for the sheriff to show up, or your mom with a gun, or your dad for that matter.”

Ackerman, however, testified that he was suffering from erectile dysfunction because of a series of surgeries. Faso told the jury, “Richard Ackerman could not physically do on June 20, 2015, what (the girl) says he did.”

After the jury left the courtroom Wednesday, Zucco offered to allow Ackerman to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of sexual misconduct. He said the plea offer would be available until July 15. Faso, who represented Ackerman along with attorney Jenelle Messer, said he would advise Ackerman not to take it.

“I’m ready to try the case again,” Zucco said.

Ackerman’s reaction to the jury deadlock was: “It’s disappointing. That’s all I have to say.”

email: tprohaska@buffnews,com