A former funeral home employee was convicted Friday of sexually abusing a 4-year-old former family member and faces up to life in prison without parole.
Jurors in 19th State District Court deliberated about four hours Friday before convicting Anthony Paul Machina, 25, of aggravated sexual assault of a child and indecency with a child by contact, while acquitting him on two other counts.
Jurors found Machina not guilty of two counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child. The counts on which Machina was acquitted alleged he forced genital and anal contact with the girl. He was convicted of forcing the girl to contact his genitals with her mouth and hands, incidents on which the girl provided the most detailed descriptions.
The punishment phase of the trial started Friday afternoon and will continue Tuesday morning. Machina faces a minimum of 25 years in prison and up to 99 years or life. He is not eligible for parole because the victim was younger than 6. He faces up to 20 years in prison on the second count.
The girl, now 7, described in graphic detail her encounters with Machina in January 2015, prompting prosecutors Gabrielle Massey and Sydney Tuggle to ask jurors how a 4-year-old girl could know so much about sexual matters without suffering the abuse she described.
“Do you remember that sound that came out of her?” Tuggle asked. “That quiet wail that came from that 7-year-old? She had to come in here and tell 12 strangers what that man did to her. That sound. I’ll never forget it. That was the sound of a child’s heart breaking. That was the sound of a child’s innocence being stolen from her.”
The girl reported the abuse to her grandmother in February 2015 after she and her grandmother watched a “Tinker Bell” movie. The girl told her grandmother she was going to marry when she turned 5. Her grandmother told her she would still be a baby at 5, but the girl persisted, blurting out what Machina made her do.
Defense attorneys Alan Bennett and Jessi Freud questioned the validity of the forensic interview with the girl, charging the interviewer’s questioning of the girl was leading, suggestive and repetitive.
They reminded jurors about testimony of a false accusation the girl had made against another family member in 2013 when she was 2 1/2 years old and her mother was involved in a custody battle. Bennett said the allegations against Machina may be more of the same, adding there is no DNA or other scientific evidence to prove the abuse happened.
In punishment testimony Friday afternoon, Machina’s mother became angry and combative, and the judge threatened to jail her if she did not calm down.
After court adjourned Thursday afternoon, members of Machina’s family confronted the victim’s family in the courthouse parking lot. A loud argument ensued, and courthouse deputies had to separate the sides and tell them to leave. After they left the courthouse, the families ended up on the same street on the way to their homes and continued to confront one another. The victim’s family filed a report with Waco police, who are investigating the incident.
Because of the incidents between the families, 19th State District Court Judge Ralph Strother found Machina’s bond insufficient and took him into custody Friday morning. He also barred Machina’s family from entering the courthouse until it was time for them to testify Friday afternoon.