Former BIA officer acquitted in 2nd sex abuse trial

Billings, Montana (AP) 6-08

A federal jury has acquitted a former Bureau of Indian Affairs officer of sexually abusing a young girl in Lame Deer nearly five years ago.

It was the second time Gerald Hill, a retired officer, was tried on the charge. A jury deliberated for about 90 minutes May 29 before finding Hill not guilty of aggravated sexual abuse.

Hill, 62, was convicted in 2006 and sentenced to more than 11 years in prison.

He appealed. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a new trial after finding Assistant U.S. Attorney Marcia Hurd’s questioning of a law enforcement witness and her closing comments about Hill’s silence to investigators after being advised of his rights violated his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent.

Hill and the girl, who was 11 years old at the time, gave conflicting accounts about what happened the night of Oct. 16, 2003, at Hill’s house.

Hill and his family were moving into a new trailer house and the girl, her mother and younger sister were helping. The families were longtime friends and the girl was going to sleep over at the Hill’s while her mother and sister returned home.

The girl, now 15, testified that she was sleeping on the couch when Hill fondled her.

Hill testified that the girl was sleeping on the couch in an awkward manner and he put his hand under her head and back and moved her.

The girl acknowledged that she had lied when in the fourth grade she told her mom a man in a pickup had approached her. Under cross examination, the girl acknowledged she overdosed on pills three months ago, but denied it was because her sister was getting attention for her good grades.

“The girl is hurting, but she’s not hurting because of Gerry Hill,” defense attorney Vern Woodward said. He said her hurt manifests itself in bad behavior and damaging statements, but said: “Gerry Hill is an honest man.”

In closing arguments, prosecutor Hurd told the jury that sometimes good people do bad things, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be believed again.