V.I. Supreme Court denies convicted sex offender's appeal

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ST. THOMAS - The Supreme Court denied the appeal of a former school volunteer who said he was wrongfully convicted of second-degree unlawful sexual contact.

Keith Francis, who volunteered at Charlotte Amalie High School's gym, initially was arrested in February 2011 in connection with the accusations of a 14-year-old boy. The boy said that Francis twice had reached his hands into the boy's pants and touched him inappropriately.

A jury in June 2012 convicted Francis, 59, of Anna's Retreat, of two counts of second-degree unlawful sexual contact but found him not guilty of two first-degree unlawful sexual contact charges, according to the Supreme Court opinion authored by V.I. Supreme Court Associate Justice Maria Cabret.

V.I. Superior Court Judge James Carroll III, after rejecting a motion seeking a mistrial, sentenced Francis to serve consecutive one-year prison terms for each of the two convictions, court records state.

In Francis' appeal, however, he claimed that the V.I. Attorney General's Office had inadequate evidence that the boy was younger than 18 years of age.

"Francis's argument lacks merit," Cabret stated in the opinion. The court "has emphatically rejected the proposition" that the prosecution may only establish a defendant's age with documentary evidence, Cabret wrote.

Additionally, Francis claimed that he was given an unfair trial based on a comment from the prosecutor, Assistant Attorney General William Evans, who stated, "An average male teenager will not lie about being molested by another male because of the shame, the stigma of being called an auntie man."

Francis objected to the statement, and the court sustained the objection, though Cabret stated in the opinion that the statement was not enough to constitute an unfair trial. However, she acknowledged it was, at the least, improper.

"Such prosecutorial misconduct will only warrant reversal if it so infected the trial with unfairness as to make the resulting conviction a denial of due process in light of the entire proceeding," Cabret wrote. As a result, Francis' conviction stands.

It is unclear whether he ever was convicted of similar conduct before, as it was not the first time that he was accused.

Francis was arrested in February 2003 on two separate but similar charges.

In one incident, police said Francis fondled a girl in the Charlotte Amalie High School gym, then exposed himself to her and offered her money.

He was charged with unlawful sexual contact in connection with the incident. In the other incident, police said Francis repeatedly raped a minor, beginning in 1996. Francis was charged with first-degree rape.

There is no record that Francis was convicted in either earlier case.

In the most recent case, in which Francis was convicted, school officials said that they would review their process of finding volunteers, as some do not undergo a formal application process.

Francis reportedly was volunteering at the high school gym, where the incident occurred.

The boy was playing basketball and, when he went to get a drink of water, saw Francis inside the facility room, according to the testimony of arresting officer Akeem Turnbull.

As the child entered the room, Francis closed the door behind him and told him to sit down. The child sat, and Francis began rubbing the boy's legs and placed his hand on the child's buttocks.

The boy told Francis to stop, but Francis ignored him and continued the assault, Turnbull wrote after the arrest, which took place just an hour after the incident. After the boy was able to get away from Francis the first time, Francis assaulted him again in the concession room of the gym when the boy went to get a soda, according to the Supreme Court opinion.

- Contact Jenny Kane at 714-9102 or email jkane@dailynews.vi.

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