A Northern Virginia mother says the man accused of molesting her son is out of jail after missed court deadlines by the prosecution led to crucial evidence being barred from the trial.
The defendant pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor instead of going to trial on much more serious sex crimes charges.
In the summer of 2021, the woman’s 11-year-old son revealed he’d been sexually molested.
“When I first got the call, my husband was crying,” his mother said. “The only words that came out was, ‘Our child’s been molested.’”
Fairfax County police arrested Ronnie Reel. A grand jury indicted him on charges of sodomy and aggravated sexual battery.
The victim’s mother was confident detectives were building a strong case. There were two confessions, including one to her in a call recorded by police.
“Basically, he admitted to everything he did,” she said. “Basically, he said he did it because he didn’t want anybody else teaching him.”
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But just days before trial, the case began to fall apart. Reel’s defense attorney complained to the judge that prosecutors missed an April deadline to turn over discovery – the evidence they planned to use.
“I get a phone call saying there might be hiccup,” the boy’s mother said. “A hiccup? What do you mean a hiccup?”
Judge Penney Azcarate told prosecutors they could not use the confessions or call the mother or the detective to the witness stand.
That left the 11-year-old boy as the only witness. He faltered on the stand, contradicting some of his earlier statements.
“He just froze up,” his mother said. “He got scared; he got nervous.”
Recess was called. The victim’s mother said the prosecutor told her there was a plea agreement. Instead of aggravated sexual battery, Reel would plead guilty to misdemeanor assault and battery. The sodomy charge would be dropped.
“As a parent hearing that, my heart sank, and I didn’t know what to do or what to say at that point and I basically told her, Fine, just do it. Just convict him of something, because I can’t take this much longer.”
Sentenced to time already served, Reel left jail that day.
In a statement to News4, the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office spokesman wrote, “We feel deeply for the victim and the family in this tragic case.”
The spokesman said under a practice implemented by Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano, discovery evidence is turned over as early as possible in a case.
The Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office said in the Reel case almost all of it was turned over before the case was moved to circuit court, writing, “The ruling that discovery was shared too early with the defense – which was done as part of our office’s effort to go above and beyond in pursuit of equal justice – was indeed confounding to us and inconsistent with precedent.”
The boy’s mother says she blames the commonwealth’s attorney for the outcome of the case.
“I do, because they did not do their part,” she said. “A man would be sitting in jail right now if they just didn’t assume. Because that’s what they did. They assumed it would be OK not to send in the paperwork again.”
She worries about the impact on her son and the community.
“He’s still out there,” she said. “There’s other children out there. What if he does it again?”
Reel is on probation in connection with charges in another county. His guilty plea last week could lead to a probation violation.
News4 could not reach Reel for comment.
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