After facing criminal charges in Hall County for seven years, a former youth football coach in Gainesville was acquitted by a jury in about 45 minutes.
“For a jury of strangers to do something in 45 minutes that the district attorney’s office didn’t do in seven years, to me, says a lot,” said Aaron B. Nicely on Tuesday.
The prosecution had sought to prove the 36-year-old was guilty, partially by entering into evidence the fact he had fled the county.
“Who pays an attorney over $10,000 to defend a case when they’re trying to run?” Nicely said. “I would have just taken the money and run if I was trying to hide.”
Nicely faced charges of statutory rape and child molestation stemming from the alleged sexual abuse of a 15-year-old girl.
According to testimony in court, Nicely began an inappropriate after-school relationship with the teen at his home in Gainesville. A second woman not named in the indictment also testified that Nicely began a sexual relationship with her when she was underage. It was jealousy for that relationship that spurred what the defense said was a false allegation, and the state said was a disclosure of abuse.
The initial charges indicted were dismissed in 2008 after the accuser retracted parts of her statement. The most serious charge of aggravated child molestation, carrying a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years, was dropped.
In a 2009 call with his attorney that was played to jurors, Nicely expressed reluctance at his lawyer’s strategy to delay another outcome in court. He felt the evidence would exonerate him; why purposefully allow time to fade it?
“When he gave me that advice, it sort of behooved me to take it, even when you don’t agree it with,” said Nicely, who did not testify in his defense. “It’s unfortunate because I know he was trying to look out for my best interest, but that just wasn’t the way to go.”
The state’s entry of testimony from Nicely’s former lawyer, Gainesville attorney Dan Summer, was one of the oddities of the trial, which began May 27.
Summer had told Nicely he should turn himself in, but reassured him his position wasn’t disastrous, either.
“If you’re not in jail, don’t worry,” Summer had said. “Let them bring the fight to you.”
Atlanta attorney Bruce Harvey, who led Nicely’s defense at trial, tried to have the “flight” evidence excluded, and said the concept of “potential consciousness of guilt” by fleeing applies only to the extent it favors the state’s case.
“It’s something called flight evidence,” Harvey said. “It’s a one-way street, and it’s very unfair and prejudicial.”
He said the jury made the right call based on the evidence.
“I’m always proud of a jury that sounds the right thing, especially in the face of public pressure with this kind of allegation,” he added.
Nicely faced five to 20 years in prison on a conviction of child molestation. Statutory rape carries no mandatory minimum and a 20-year maximum sentence.