Fri, Jan 11, 2013
According to The Times-Picayune, a Harvey man who served as deacon at a New Orleans church was convicted Thursday night of sexually abusing little girls as young as 4 years old. His victims include a woman when she was a child and her two daughters more than decade later. For that, Michael Videau, 58, faces mandatory life in prison, a punishment he will receive next month.
A Jefferson Parish jury deliberated almost four hours in convicting Videau of seven counts, involving five victims. A sixth woman testified she, too, was abused by Videau when she was a child in the 1970s, but prosecutors provided her testimony only to show his “lustful disposition” for prepubescent girls.
Videau knew each of them well. Related through two of his marriages, they lived with him or were entrusted to his care, according to testimony. Dismissively describing Videau as “this child molester,” Assistant District Attorney Rachel Luck Africk said 90 percent of sexual abuse victims know their predators.
“This man, he picked his victims perfectly,” said Africk, who prosecuted the case with Clif Milner. “He picked six kids under the age of 10, who loved him, who respected him, and he told them not to tell.”
Dressed in business suits this week, Videau, who awaited his trial in jail in lieu of a $2.4 million bond, denied the accusations in response to questions asked by his public defender John Benz. Two of his accusers were mistaken about what happened and the rest either lied or where coached, he said.
“I never did anything inappropriate to any of those children,” Videau testified Thursday.
Retired Judge Jo Ellen Grant, who is temporarily filling a vacancy at the 24th Judicial District Court in Gretna, will sentence Videau on Feb. 4.
The jury convicted him as charged of six of the seven counts and found him guilty of one lesser charge. He was convicted of sexual battery, aggravated oral sexual battery and molestation of a juvenile, involving a woman who is now 25 years old; of aggravated rape of that woman’s 4-year-old daughter; of indecent behavior with a juvenile involving that woman’s 5-year-old daughter; and of two counts of sexual battery, involving two other young girls, both under age 10.
Until 2008, conviction of aggravated rape of victims under age 13 enabled Louisiana prosecutors to seek a death penalty. The U.S. Supreme Court, ruling in a Jefferson Parish court case, banned that punishment for that crime. The charge now carries mandatory life in prison, meaning that unless Videau’s conviction of the aggravated rape count is overturned, he will never leave prison alive.
His defense amounted to his testimony and that of five witnesses who spoke favorably of his character. Four of them are congregants at Second New Pleasant Zion Baptist Church in New Orleans, where he is a deacon, driver and treasurer, they said.
“He’s honest,” its pastor, the Rev. Alex Cotton testified Thursday. “He’s trustworthy. He’s a man of his word.”
Allegations of abuse surfaced publicly in January 2012, when the 25-year-old woman living with Videau looked into his bedroom. She said saw him shirtless and lying on his back in his bed, her 5-year-old daughter straddling his hips while he rubbed her buttocks under the sheet, “like she was a grown woman,” the mother testified Wednesday.
She said Videau molested her, too, when she was a child in the 1990s. She never disclosed the abuse, she said. Asked why, she said, “I’m not sure. Mostly scared of what might happen.”
But as an adult and a mother of two young girls, she thought he had changed, given that he was a deacon at his church. “I thought he was a changed man,” she testified, explaining why she let Videau be around her daughters.
When she caught her 5-year-old on his lap, the mother questioned both her daughters. The older one said she saw Videau put his penis in her sister’s mouth, and she said he also performed an oral sexual act on her.
When confronted, Videau denied it all, the mother testified. “I told him, ‘I know you did it, because you did it to me,’” she said.
Her older daughter, now 6, appeared to be coy on the witness stand Wednesday, seemingly afraid to describe in detail what Videau did. “I forget,” she continually said to Africk’s questions. She referred to it only as “the bad stuff.”
Since her little sister did not testify, prosecutors relied on her as a witness to the alleged abuse.
When word of the abuse allegations surfaced, adults questioned other girls who had contact with Videau. Two more girls spoke up, saying Videau had fondled their genitals on numerous occasions, according to trial testimony.
A woman, now 42, said she read a news account of Videau’s arrest in The Times-Picayune and decided to speak up. He abused her when she was a girl in the 1970s, when he lived in Algiers, she testified Thursday.
She recalled an incident in his car, in which he performed oral sex on her and attempted intercourse, and he then asked which she preferred. “I said the first one, because it didn’t hurt as much,” she testified. “He told me not to tell anyone, and I didn’t.”
The abuse left its emotional scars and affected her ability to be intimate. “I could not properly love a man,” she cried.
Testifying Thursday, Videau denied it and said of the younger accusers that they were either lying or misunderstood. For instance, he denied receiving oral sex from the 4-year-old and described a situation of roughhousing, during which the girl bit his upper thigh.
Of the accusation he performed oral sex on the 5-year-old girl, he said he was playfully giving the child a “raspberry,” or blowing into her belly. In his statement to Detective Kay Horne of the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office, Videau suggested his face might have touched her genitals.
“My unintentional misconduct was honestly not intentional,” he told the detective.
Throughout the trial, Benz highlighted the disagreements his client had with the older victims, suggesting vengeance was behind the accusations.
Benz also greeted with skepticism the 25-year-old woman’s explanation for why she moved in with Videau with her daughters after he molested her. Her explanation that Videau had changed and was a church deacon made no sense, he said.
“He could have been the pope, and that would not have induced me to bring back my two kids — if that (abuse) happened,” Benz said.
Africk responded in kind, reading a passage from a letter of apology Pope Benedict wrote to the people of Ireland who were sexually abused by priests. Being a member of the clergy, she said, “does not excuse you from being a child molester.”