Man guilty of sexual assault; victim outlined years of abuse

GREENFIELD — As the judge read the verdict, Robert Celio jumped up in anger.

Guilty.

A jury convicted the Greenfield man guilty of an array of felony sexual assault charges in Hancock Circuit Court on Wednesday at the end of a two-day trial.

Celio’s attorney commanded his client to sit down; a judge pointed to the defendant’s table and made the same request. But Celio refused, instead offering his hands to a jail officer standing watch behind him.

“I can’t sit here anymore and listen to this,” he muttered.

Celio faced six felony charges related to child molestation and intimidation amid allegations he forced a young girl to have sex with him repeatedly over the years — starting when she was 6 years old, court records show.

This week, he sat and listened as the girl told a jury of 12 Hancock County residents about the years of abuse she said she suffered at Celio’s hands.

Celio repeatedly denied the abuse and kept with that story as he was led from the courtroom, muttering to those who investigated him that he was innocent, that it was their fault he would be locked away for something he didn’t do.

Celio returns to court for sentencing next month.

His charges include two Class A felonies, each of which carries a penalty of 20 to 50 years; one Class B felony, which carries a penalty of six to 20 years; and three Class C felonies, each of which carries a penalty of two to eight years.

Prosecutors relied heavily on the victim to recount her story to the jury, warning those listening that most of the testimony would be difficult to hear. Celio’s defense attorney tried to paint a picture that the victim wasn’t telling the truth, suggesting counselors had helped her craft her testimony.

On Tuesday, the victim told jurors Celio began abusing her when she was 6 years old. She described four instances in which he assaulted her, saying he often barricaded himself in a room with her and threatened to hurt her if she told anyone what he’d done.

Once, Celio held a knife to her throat, the girl testified. Another time, he put a gun to her head and said he would kill her if she reported the abuse, she said.

Often the incidences came after Celio had been excessively drinking alcohol, the girl said. A drunken Celio would become angry with her, she said, and the abuse seemed to serve as a punishment for whatever she’d done wrong.

Celio took the stand Wednesday to defend himself, answering each question from his attorney with a short, “No, sir. I didn’t do that.”

Throughout the trial, Celio’s defense attorney, Jeff McClarnon, tried to convince jurors the young victim had fabricated the allegations.

McClarnon asked many of the state’s witnesses about a journal the victim wrote in during counseling sessions, in which she once penned paragraphs about how she needed “to work on her story” ahead of the trial, he said.

But his witnesses, including the victim’s family and counselors, repeatedly rebutted his statements, saying the journal the girl kept was to help her come to terms with what Celio had done to her.

The “story” was written in the victim’s “life book,” testified Katie Hunter, a therapist for the Indiana Children’s Bureau who has worked closely with the victim over the last few years. Writing down the things that have happened often helps victims find closure. It also helped the victim prepare for coming to court and talking about embarrassing things in front of strangers, Hunter said.

“She remembers that because she experienced it,” Deputy Prosecutor Marie Castetter said. “You don’t make that up. What would be her motive for lying?”

In his closing arguments, McClarnon told jurors he doesn’t believe the victim lied but had come to believe a story that was spoon-fed to her over time, with adults telling her what she should say.

“It was a beautiful, well-crafted story,” he said. “It wasn’t like that at the beginning.”

In the time since the victim first told police about the alleged abuse, details have been added to the story she originally told officers, McClarnon said.

McClarnon said if his client truly were a child molester, there would be more proof, such as pornography, which police didn’t find in the home. He said they also didn’t find the weapon the girl claimed Celio use to threatened her.

“I like her. I want what’s best for her, but putting him in prison falsely will not help her.”

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Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.