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Benton acquitted of felony rape, guilty of 2 misdemeanors

Benton

JOHNSTOWN — In a split Fulton County Court jury verdict Tuesday, a former Fulton County YMCA employee accused in April 2019 of sexual activity with a 12-year-old girl at the facility, was acquitted of felony rape, but guilty of two misdemeanors.

Tyler R. Benton, 21, of Johnstown was found innocent of first-degree rape, a felony, after a three-week trial. The jury found him guilty of second-degree sexual abuse and endangering the welfare of a child, both misdemeanors.

Prosecutors called 13 witnesses, while the defense called two witnesses. The defendant didn’t take the stand. The five-woman, seven-man jury deliberated for about 4 1/2 hours before reaching its mixed verdict.

“He is going to have to register as a [state] sex offender,” county District Attorney Chad Brown said Tuesday.

Benton will be sentenced at 10 a.m. Sept. 10 at the County Courthouse.

Brown said he faces up to one year in the County Jail for each misdemeanor, although the judge has discretion to lower that sentence to just probation.

In a trial that began May 25 with jury selection before Acting County Court Judge Tatiana Coffinger, Benton was accused two years ago when he was 19. Benton was charged in April 2019 by the Fulton County Sheriff’s Department with first-degree rape. He was a former employee of the YMCA on Harrison Street in the town of Johnstown. He was charged with rape following an incident that occurred at the facility, according to the sheriff’s office.

Investigators said Benton was arrested in connection with sexual activity allegedly involving an underage person. The sheriff’s office investigation involved numerous interviews, multiple videos from the YMCA surveillance cameras, test messages between the victim and Benton, and a recorded phone call between the two.

The defendant was represented at trial by Johnstown attorney Michael Viscosi, who commented Tuesday: “We are very thankful to have the jury reach the right decision and find Tyler not guilty of rape in the first degree,” Viscosi stated. “It was a long three weeks, but the jury saw through some of the government’s arguments and I am sure they were relieved to watch him walk out of the courtroom doors with his family. They did convict Tyler of two misdemeanors, but we are optimistic that at worst we would see a probation sentence and an appeal is likely. This is an autistic kid whose family has been living a nightmare for over two years and feel that the $10 million lawsuit against our YMCA — which was filed before the arrest — played a large role. There was never any physical evidence and I think the investigation was limited to finding what the government wanted to find. We are very thankful.”

Fulton County Assistant District Attorney Katherine Ehrlich appeared for the prosecution.

As to why Benton wasn’t convicted on the felony rape count, Brown stated: “I couldn’t make any guesses on that.”

In 2019, Sheriff Richard Giardino told The Leader-Herald the incident was brought to his office’s attention by the YMCA’s executive director. The alleged incident occurred at the facility.

“[Benton] was an employee who was immediately fired,” Giardino said. “As soon as we completed our investigation, the arrest was made.”

In May 2019, the family of the 12-year-old girl filed a $10 million civil lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Albany against the facility and the accused suspect. The Albany law firm of O’Brien & Wood, PLLC filed a federal complaint against the Fulton County YMCA and Benton.

In a news release issued Tuesday by Brown’s office, the district attorney said the victim testified to multiple encounters with Benton on Saturday, April 13, 2019 that involved touching, kissing and other inappropriate contact. Under the supervision of the investigators from the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office, the victim made a controlled call to Benton. During the controlled call, Benton made certain admissions to the victim and apologized for his behavior toward the victim. The YMCA surveillance video showed Benton inappropriately touching the victim in the “teen center” while he was supposed to be supervising the room. It also showed Mr. Benton leading the victim to a private area of the YMCA.

Brown’s release said that based on the guilty verdict for second-degree sexual abuse, the jury found that Benton “subjected a female person to sexual contact” who was “less than fourteen years old.” Based on the guilty verdict for endangering the welfare of a child, the jury found that Benton “knowingly acted in a manner likely to be injurious to the physical, mental or moral welfare of a child who was less than seventeen years old.”

The case was initially scheduled for trial last March, but was postponed due to COVID-19.

Ehrlich stated “Thank you to the investigators and police for their time and effort and special thank you to the victim who never gave up for over two years and trusted the system to get her and her family a measure of justice.”

Brown stated “I am extremely grateful for the time and attention put in by this jury over the past two weeks. These are difficult cases to present and hear but I am thankful this victim had her voice heard.”

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