ONLY ON CVP: A judge in Hackensack said he doesn’t believe former Fox 5 investigative reporter Charles Leaf is a threat to jump bail, but he said that wasn’t enough to release Leaf while he appeals his conviction for sexually assaulting a 4-year-old girl and having child pornography on his home computer in Wyckoff.
“From Day One, Mr. Leaf has been pretty outspoken about his innocence,” Superior Court Judge James J. Guida told defense attorney Brian Neary yesterday, as Leaf sat silently. “It’s my opinion [that] before running, he would face the system and do everything he could to overturn the result.
“He’s an investigative journalist, I don’t know how that will or will not play out,” the judge said. “But he does not seem to me to be a person who would run, especially since he has taken a very verbal, outspoken position with regard to his innocence.”
Leaf is serving a 26-year state prison sentence Guida handed down in June following his February conviction. He won’t be eligible for parole for 20 years.
He protested his innocence throughout, and at his sentence accused state child welfare workers of conducting a “witch hunt” that has “tortured my family” (SEE: Charles Leaf blames state child welfare workers, sentenced to 26 years for sex assault on girl, 4).
Neary argued that the judge should grant his client bail because his appeal is based on so many alleged problems with the trial and “you can’t get one minute back.”
“This was not a simple case,” the defense lawyer said. “It was as complicated as can be.”
He cited a videotape of a forensic interview with a 21-minute gap, violations of evidence seizure of Leaf’s computer and the exclusion of DYFS counseling interviews, among other issues.
Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor Kenneth Ralph said Leaf doesn’t deserve bail because, ultimately, the trial hinged on his own credibility.
“The jury rejected his testimony,” Ralph said. “He was unable to create even reasonable doubt. And that has the least possibility of being overturned on appeal.
“The court rule doesn’t provide that every person would get bail pending appeal. It is an exception.”
Guida agreed that no one is constitutionally guaranteed bail after a conviction while an appeal is filed.
“On every conviction there are appealable issues,” the judge said. “I see these kinds of legal issues all the time in these kinds of cases.”
Leaf was to be returned to Southwoods State Prison in Cumberland County.
As a convicted sex offender who continues to insist he’s innocent, he can’t be incarcerated at the Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center in Avenel. He serves his time in general prison population.
Jurors in Hackensack convicted Leaf on Feb. 20 following a little more than five hours of deliberations over two days.
The girl, now 8, was the first witness to testify in the trial. Showing considerable composure, she told jurors that Leaf never molested her and that the allegations she made two years ago were fed to her by her nanny.
Ralph, in turn, called her a victim of “outside influences” who counseled her to lie on the stand.
“You can’t blame a little girl” for trying to make the entire situation go away and return to her family, the prosecutor said.
Neary contended that the only influence came from prosecutor’s investigators who lengthened the forensic interview of the girl from a law-enforcement standard 20 to 25 minutes for a child of her age to nearly 90 minutes.
The jurors found Leaf guilty of all charges — aggravated sexual assault (rape), sexual assault, child endangerment, possession of child pornography and tampering with evidence — after a month-long endurance test.
One of the original 16 was hit by a car, two suffered deaths in their immediate families and a fourth was dismissed after telling fellow panelists he’d already made up his mind while complaining about the length of the trial.
At one point there was a lengthy discussion of continuing with only 11 jurors because yet another member of the panel had vacation plans. The possibility of a two-week break was raised, but the conflict with the juror was quickly resolved.
Two trial days were cancelled by snow, another by a flooded courthouse, and three others had already been cut short by the weather.
Those testifying besides the girl, the nanny and Leaf himself included his father-in-law, who flew from Poland to tell the jurors in Hackensack that child pornography found on a desktop computer seized from the family room of the Leaf home in Wyckoff was his.