- April 6, 2017
A Flagler County jury of four men and two women found Michael Bowling, 48, guilty of sexually molesting a 15-year-old girl who'd stayed at his home for a sleepover visit with his stepdaughter in June 2016.
The jury deliberated for an hour and eight minutes before handing down its verdict on Friday, Feb. 22. The trial started with jury selection on Monday, Feb. 18. It was the second time Bowling was tried on these charges: In an earlier trial held in December, the jury deadlocked, leading to a mistrial. Bowling still faces another trial on charges that he had sexually abused his stepdaughter. The jury in the trial that ended Feb. 22 was not informed of those other charges.
It found Bowling guilty of the charges of lewd and lascivious molestation and lewd and lascivious exhibition.
Melissa Clark, the assistant state attorney prosecuting the case, called Bowling's version of events "absolutely unbelievable."
"What motivation would [the victim] have to make this up?" Clark said in her closing argument. "She just met the man, doesn’t know him."
Bowling's attorney, public defender William Bookhammer, said the allegations were "completely fabricated" by the two girls. He suggested that the stepdaughter was afraid that Bowling planned to move the family to Kentucky, which would move her away from her boyfriend, and that she was angry because Bowling had hit her mother. The mother said there were no such plans to move away from Flagler.
The victim told the jury that the molestation occurred when she visited her friend's home in Daytona North for the first time, for what she'd planned as a two-day sleepover.
It started at night after her friend's mother had gone to bed and after the two girls had tried on homecoming dresses and listened to music.
At about 11 p.m. or midnight, when the girls were playing cards in the stepdaughter's bedroom, Bowling came into the room, the victim said. He made the card game into a game of truth or dare — but, really, there was no "truth" asked of the player who'd lost a round. Only dares, the victim said.
When she lost, the victim said, Bowling dared her to lift up her shirt, which she did after he pressured her. He also dared her to drop her pants (she did not) and to bare her breasts (which she did), she said. Bowling's stepdaughter confirmed that he'd asked the victim to expose herself.
He told the victim not to tell anybody, saying, "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas," the victim said.
Bowling, on the stand, admitted to playing cards with the girls in the bedroom late at night, and admitted turning the card game into truth or dare.
He said he'd wanted to spend time with the girls to pry information out of them: There had been rumors that his stepdaughter, he said, had posted a photo of herself flashing her breasts on social media, and he said he'd wanted to ask her more about that incident and find out if it was true. But his (now ex-) wife, Clark noted, said the stepdaughter had already admitted weeks prior to the flashing incident.
Clark noted — and Bowling admitted — that Bowling had browsed through multiple websites showing girls exposing their breasts. He said he'd done so in order to see if his stepdaughter's photo appeared on any such websites.
He denied that he'd told the victim to expose herself to him.
After the card game, the victim told the jury, they played a game called "seven minutes of heaven," in which two people would go into a closet with each other for seven minutes and could do whatever that wanted.
"He said it would be weird if he went in with his stepdaughter, so it had to be me," the victim said.
Inside the closet, Bowling put his mouth on her bare breast, she said.
Later, the two teens went into the kitchen to get water, the victim said, and her friend noticed that there was a bottle of champagne in the fridge, and began asking Bowling if she could have it.
Bowling told the girls they'd have to "earn it," then told his stepdaughter to give him a back rub — which the stepdaughter did, the victim said — but then, the victim told the jury, "He said, '[the victim] over here isn’t helping.'"
Bowling then took the victim into the closet again, the victim said, and stimulated himself sexually until he ejaculated.
Investigators found semen on the closet wall, near where the victim said Bowling had been standing. They matched it to Bowling's DNA.
Bowling initially told an investigator that there was no reason his semen would be in his stepdaughter's closet. But he later said, and told the jury, that he'd had a sexual encounter with his wife there, and that the encounter with his wife explained the stain. The wife, on the witness stand, said she'd never had a sexual encounter with Bowling in the closet.
And even if Bowling's tale of the incident with his wife had happened, Clark said, "How would [the victim] even know that the semen would be found in the closet? How on earth could the child possibly know that?"
After Bowling left the closet, the victim said, the two girls each had two glasses of champagne, and the victim became sick because she'd never had alcohol before.
The stepdaughter denied having asked Bowling for champagne, and said she didn't like alcohol. Her mother told the jury the same thing. Bookhammer, noted for the jury the difference between the victim's account and the stepdaughter's. But Bowling himself had also said that his stepdaughter had asked for the champagne.
Bowling told the jury that he hadn't actually given the girls any alcohol: He admitted giving them the bottle, but said he'd poured the champagne out, filled the bottle with tap water and recorked it. Confronted about the fact that a champagne cork can't be forced back into its bottle, he said he'd taken a knife and cut it back down to fit.
When the victim woke up at 7 or 8 the next morning, her friend was still asleep, and the family's cars were gone, she said. She contacted her grandmother, and asked to be picked up, saying she was sick. She told a guidance counselor what happened weeks later.
Bowling will be sentenced by Circuit Judge Terence Perkins in a hearing on a later date.