Conviction of former coach overturned

March 29, 2008 11:05:04 AM PDT
An appeals court has overturned the conviction of former gymnastics coach Michael Cardamone on sexual abuse charges. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison for allegedly fondling seven girls.

He could get a new trial as well as a second chance to prove he did nothing wrong.

Cardamone could be a free man soon, according to his attorney, Kathleen Zellner. She says he could be out of jail as soon as two weeks. If the state intends to fight the reversal and take this up to the Supreme Court, that may mean Cardamone could stay in custody for several months. It has yet to be determined.

A jury convicted Cardamone in March, 2005, for sexually molesting seven girls who were taking lessons at the family's gym. On Friday at his attorney's office, more than 35 supporters showed up. Family members, friends and people who worked at the gymnastics gym were elated that the Appellate Court for the Second District of Illinois has reversed Cardamonen's conviction.

"As I sit here today, I am extremely pleased that Michael has been vindicated by a higher court. Over these last five years, I have prayed that the system would somehow find the truth and allow for my son to have a new trial where that truth could now be told," said mother Lynda Lynch.

"Every day, my 3- and 4-year-old boys ask when Daddy can come home. Today I embraced them and told them Daddy will be home soon," said wife Elizabeth Cardamone.

"He was extremely happy, but like most of the innocent people I have represented, I think he believed that this would happen," Zellner said. "Essentially in a nutshell, what the appellate court said in a 70-page opinion was that Michael Cardamone did not get a fair trial.

The appellate court issued the opinion saying at least three errors were made. First, too much evidence of uncharged sexual conduct against the girls was revealed during that court case. Second, the court refused to allow testimony of expert witnesses regarding the reliability of child victim testimony. And lastly, that the court should have given the jury additional instructions regarding the need for a unanimous verdict.

Zellner said at this point that the state's attorney could actually go to the Supreme Court. They have a 35-day window to do so. She says, though, that the Supreme Court sees less than five percent of the cases that are before them, so she feels pretty optimistic that Cardamone will be out shortly, if not in a few months.

"We know that Michael Cardamone, an innocent man, will come home," said sister Alysha Millard.

"Judge Michael Burke, the trial judge in this case, gave both sides a very fair trial," DuPage Co. State's Attorney Joe Birkett said in a statement. "His rulings were all well reasoned and legally sound. I am hopeful that the Illinois Supreme Court will take this case and re-instate these convictions so that these children will not have to be put through another trial."

And the young victims - some of whom testified at the trial - share that sentiment.

"Obviously this slows down the process. They would prefer this to be done. They are committed to see that this proceeds forward and justice is accomplished," said Pete Flowers, one victim's attorney.

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