By JEFFREY SIMMONS
They had a relationship.
She said it was like a boyfriend-girlfriend.
He considered her his little sister.
Who would the jury believe?
For several hours on Thursday, jurors listened to conflicting testimony in a case where a 25-year-old man was accused of having consensual sex with a 13-year-old girl, a crime in the commonwealth. The only physical evidence was a grainy cell phone photo.
David Matthew Lineberry, 26, of Fries was indicted last July on the felony charge (carnal knowledge of a minor) that carries a maximum punishment of 10 years in prison.
The prosecution said he manipulated the teen and gained her trust, which led to a sexual relationship, including one February 2018 incident at a secluded Wythe County roadside pull-off for which he was charged.
Lineberry denied it all.
In testimony for the prosecution, the accuser (the Enterprise doesn’t typically name accusers in sexual assault cases) and her mother, said Lineberry was like part of the family and would often come to their house to eat dinner. They all volunteered together on a local fire department and – at the time – Lineberry was separated from his wife and had lost one of his sons, according to testimony.
“I had no reason not to trust him,” said the mother, who testified that Lineberry sometimes took her daughter and two foster children to the mall or Walmart.
Now 15, the girl said she and Lineberry became more than friends early last year when Lineberry began talking to her about what their life would be like together.
They first kissed when responding to a structure fire, she said.
“There was a whole door of emotions opened,” said the girl, who frequently sobbed and shook while on the witness stand.
After returning to the girl’s house after the fire, Lineberry asked her parents if he could have a relationship with the girl, the mother testified. She said they denied the request.
Talking about the February 2018 Wythe County encounter for which Lineberry was charged, the girl said she and Lineberry had sexual intercourse at a secluded spot in Ivanhoe after first visiting one of Lineberry’s friends in Carroll County.
In his cross examination, defense attorney Chip DeHart brought up the girl’s statement to police that she’d also had sex with Lineberry on the sofa before leaving the friend’s house. The friend, though, testified that the girl was with her foster sister – and not alone – the only time she ever visited his doublewide.
Testifying for the prosecution, the foster sister, also now 15, said she had witnessed Lineberry and the accuser kissing and holding hands and that the accuser had told her they were having sex. The foster sister also took a photograph of the two appearing to kiss – a photo the prosecution entered as evidence.
Lineberry testified the photo was posed at the girl’s request so it could be sent to her ex-boyfriend.
“Did you ever have sex with this lady?” DeHart asked him.
“I did not,” Lineberry said, adding that it made him uncomfortable when he realized how attached the girl was becoming to him, which led him to cut back on his visits to the family’s residence.
After a judge denied two defense motions to strike the commonwealth’s evidence, he gave the case to the jurors, who deliberated for less than one hour before returning a not guilty verdict.
Jeffrey Simmons can be reached at 228-6611, extension 19, or email@example.com.