Jurors acquit North Yarmouth firefighter accused of sexually abusing teenage firefighter trainee

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PORTLAND — A Cumberland and Portland firefighter who faced eight charges of sexual abuse of a minor was found innocent on all eight counts Monday afternoon.

Arguments in the case against Craig Rawnsley, 42, of North Yarmouth, began Wednesday, Sept. 16, in Cumberland County Superior Court and concluded on Friday.

The jury began deliberating Monday morning and handed down its verdict around 2 p.m.

“It’s obviously a wonderful result for Craig and his family,” Thomas Hallett, Rawnsley’s attorney, said Monday afternoon. “… We took the position that he’d be vindicated at trial from the very outset, and indeed that’s exactly what’s happened.”

Each count carried a possible sentence of up to five years in prison, Hallett said.

Rawnsley was accused of sexually abusing two teenage girls, but this trial addressed only the eight counts of sexual abuse involving one girl. That 17-year-old girl accused Rawnsley of having sex with her eight times between March 1 and July 19, 2008. She was 15 at the time of the alleged sexual acts.

A separate trial will address the second girl’s claims. Rawnsley faces four misdemeanor counts in that case, including two for unlawful sexual touching and one each of providing alcohol to a minor and assault.

He also faces charges stemming from a second arrest for allegedly violating conditions of release and tampering with a victim.

Hallett said he hopes the second case will be tried “within the next month or so. We’re looking forward to wrapping this up, and getting these cases tried, (and) getting Craig back on the Fire Department.”

Rawnsley has been on unpaid administrative leave from the Portland Fire Department. In Cumberland, where he is an on-call firefighter on inactive status, Rawnsley was involved with the town’s Explorer youth firefighter training program, in which the two girls participated.

He was arrested last October after one of the girls came forward with an accusation. The other girl made her accusations during the ensuing investigation. Rawnsley pleaded innocent to the charges in January.

Hallett said Monday’s decision says “we had a jury that listened to everything, and ultimately concluded that this young woman was not telling the truth. … In a case like this, once you sort of establish that she’s not telling the truth on one thing, how do you trust her on another thing?”

Rawnsley did not testify.

In her testimony last Wednesday, under questioning by Assistant District Attorney Matthew Tice, the girl said Rawnsley started to pay more attention to her in the early months of 2008, that “he started touching, grabbing and kind of pushing me,” and that he once told her that if he were her age, he’d be quite attracted to her.

She said their physical contact increased in the spring, along with telephone calls and text messages, culminating with their first sexual encounter in March 2008 at Cumberland’s west station. Rawnsley pulled her into a rehabilitation bus, unbuttoned both their pants and initiated sexual intercourse, she said. He stopped after saying she was not experienced, and he acted upset and frustrated, she said.

The next seven incidents of sexual intercourse occurred at Rawnsley’s house, Cumberland’s central station and again at the west station, she said.

Tice asked the girl whether she remained friends with Rawnsley and looked up to him as a fireman during the period, and she said yes.

In last week’s opening statements, Tice told jurors that whether consent was granted is irrelevant. Although the age of consent in Maine is 16, he said, a person at least 10 years older than a minor was accused of engaging in sexual relations with that minor.

He said the main source of evidence against Rawnsley would be the testimony of the alleged victim, and that phone calls and text messages between her and Rawnsley preceded the eight sexual acts with which Rawnsley was charged. Tice said he would present phone records – which begin in 2007 and peak in April 2008 before tailing off – as evidence. He also said he planned to present “one or two” witnesses who saw Rawnsley and the girl together.

Hallett then spoke in Rawnsley’s defense, urging jurors to pay close attention to the girl’s answers to questions and determine whether there are any inconsistencies in her statements.

“If you’re going to be asked to convict based on just the testimony of one person, without any other evidence, you’ve got to make sure that she’s telling the truth,” Hallett said.

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net.

Sidebar Elements

pn-portcumbrawnsley-092309.jpgPortland and Cumberland firefighter Craig Rawnsley of North Yarmouth was aquitted Monday, Sept. 21, on eight counts of sexual abuse of a minor. He still faces another trial on charges related to accusations by a second teenage girl.

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.