PALESTINE — A 10-man, 2-woman Anderson County jury sentenced a 48-year-old Tucker man to 40 years in prison without possibility of parole for five counts of sexual misconduct, including the charge of Continuous Sexual Assault of a Child, on Thursday.
The trial of Ronald Van Zant, presided over by State District Judge Bascom W. Bentley III, began Tuesday and concluded at about 5 p.m. on Thursday at the Anderson County Courthouse.
The jury took less than 30 minutes on Thursday morning to reach “guilty” verdicts on the five counts of sexual misconduct.
A verdict of “not guilty” for one count of Indecency of a Child by Contact was returned based on the recommendation of Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Watkins, who tried the case for the prosecution.
During the guilt and innocence phase of the trial, the District Attorney’s office presented testimony from five witnesses, including the male victim, now 20, who was a pre-teen during the molestation.
Detective David Kassaw of the Palestine Police Department testified about his investigation into the abuse allegations. Because of the delay in reporting the crime, Kassaw explained he was not able to gather physical evidence to support the victim’s story.
The victim, who at the time of the assaults was a pre-teen boy, reported to authorities that he had been repeatedly molested by Van Zant over a 3-year period. During court testimony the victim said he waited to tell anyone about the assaults until he was no longer around Van Zant and “felt safe.”
“We knew this would be a tough case to prove,” ADA Watkins said. “Crimes against children happen behind closed doors, usually with no other witnesses besides the victims themselves. This places an enormous burden on them to be able to relate their story.
“The victim was at times very emotional, crying and shaking as he told jurors of abuses that went on for several years,” Watkins added. “He felt ashamed and fearful of the defendant.”