February 17, 2011 11:37:00 AM
A Lowndes County jury today found a 26-year-old former Marine guilty of fondling his then-11-year-old niece.
Mark Andrew Fortune, of 130 Stagecoach Road, faces up to 15 years in prison. His sentencing was scheduled for this afternoon.
Fortune claimed he was under the influence of Ambien, a sleep-disorder drug known to cause sleep-driving, when the alleged incident occurred Dec. 12, 2008.
Fortune had been prescribed Ambien in 2006 after he was injured by an improvised explosive device while serving in Iraq.
At the time of the alleged incident, Fortune, his stepniece and her brother were watching a movie at his and his wife''s house, according to testimony.
The Dispatch does not name the victims of alleged sex crimes.
When his nephew fell asleep on the living-room love seat, Fortune allegedly inappropriately touched his niece while they were lying on the other couch under the covers together. He allegedly also repeatedly put her hand on parts of his clothed body.
The girl testified that she had pretended to be asleep during the incident, but did see him staring at her exposed chest and taking occasional sips of tea.
But during this time, Fortune "wasn''t even in the land of consciousness," insisted his attorney, William Starks.
In his initial statement to Lowndes County deputies, Fortune said he had no memory of the incident and "could have probably" mistaken his niece for his wife in his drug-induced state.
But Fortune''s wife "is not an 11-year-old child in her first training bra," quipped Assistant District Attorney Lindsay Clemons, who pointed out in her closing argument that Fortune had remembered the events surrounding the incident.
Even though it''s possible that the fondling could have occurred, Starks said his client "doesn''t believe in his soul or body that he could ever do this."
"A tragedy has occurred here, but it goes both ways," he continued, speaking of the drug''s effect in Fortune''s life.
Clemons said it was uncertain whether Fortune was still taking Ambien at the time of the incident, as he had been prescribed a different sleep-inducing drug the month before the incident.
But even if Fortune was taking the drug, he was taking it voluntarily, just as if he had consumed some other intoxicant, and should be held accountable for his actions, Clemons argued.
After closing arguments, the jury were given their instructions by Circuit Judge Lee Howard and sent into deliberation at about 4 p.m. Wednesday.
At about 5:45 p.m., Howard read a note to attorneys he had received from the jury, which asked whether the verdict has to be "unanimous."
Howard said the instructions contained the answer to their question, but decided to send the jury home for the night. The trial resumed at 9 a.m. today, and the jury returned its verdict before 10 a.m.
The victim, now 13, said this morning she was "very, very happy" with the verdict. Fortune declined comment.
tw226 commented at 2/22/2011 8:41:00 AM:
Hang HIM........He knew what He was doing to that little Girl
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