YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: Despite an impassioned insistence of innocence, former Fox 5 investigative reporter Charles Leaf was sentenced in Hackensack today to 26 years in state prison for sexually assaulting a 4-year-old girl and of have kiddie porn on his home computer in Wyckoff.
Leaf, who must serve a month short of 20 years before he’ll be eligible for parole, remained composed — even more subdued than during his trial — as Superior Court Judge James J. Guida sentenced him.
Of many supporters during his trial, only his wife, Monica, was in court today.
Her husband spoke for nearly a half-hour, protesting his innocence and accusing state child welfare workers of conducting a “witch hunt” that has “tortured my family.”
Turning to look at one of several spectators from the state Division of Child Protection and Permanency, he said: “Yes I am looking right at you – that woman in the first row.
“That woman posted a picture of me in an orange jumpsuit and handcuffs,” Leaf told the judge. “She pinned it on the computer in her cubicle, then had my son sit there and look at it and said: ‘That’s your dad’.”
He also said the agency removed his and his wife’s children from her care twice because she supported him through the ordeal.
“Child abuse of any kind is abhorrent, reprehensible,” Leaf, 44, said.
“My focus is on my two children,” he added. “They are the center of my universe, my everything. They are innocent and precious kids who nearly four years ago had their father unjustly taken away from them.”
Guida agreed with Leaf, in part.
“Yes sir, your family is destroyed,” he said. ” But the jury has determined you are the one who destroyed your family, not others.
“The jury found you committed these acts.”
Defense attorney Brian Neary told CLIFFVIEW PILOT he will appeal the verdic and will also apply for bail.
“He’s a man of honor and is no risk if released pending his appeal,” Neary said.
As a convicted sex offender who continues to insist he’s innocent, Leaf is not subject to incarcaration at the Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center in Avenel. He will serve his time in general prison population.
Jurors in Hackensack convicted Leaf on Feb. 20 following a little more than five hours of deliberations over two days. A judge revoked his bail and he was handcuffed and taken to the Bergen County Jail to await today’s sentencing.
The girl, now 8, was the first witness to testify in the trial. Showing considerable composure, she told jurors that Leaf never molested her and that the allegations she made two years ago were fed to her by her nanny.
A prosecutor, in turn, called her a victim of “outside influences” who counseled her to lie on the stand.
“You can’t blame a little girl” for lying in what Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor Kenneth Ralph said was an effort to make the whole situation go away and return to her family, the prosecutor said.
Ralph contended that the defense team’s insistence that nanny Weronika Karwowska concocted the story and coached the child “makes no sense.”
He called the girl “weak, sad and helpless” and said she “betrayed [Leaf] by telling the secret he told her to keep.”
The only outside influence, Neary contended, came from prosecutor’s investigators who lengthened the forensic interview of the girl from a law-enforcement standard 20 to 25 minutes for a child of her age to nearly 90 minutes.
Neary pointed to a 21-minute gap in the video of that interview, after which the girl changes her story at the apparent prompting of the investigator.
An emotional Leaf was moved to tears several times during the trial — and remained steadfast and insistent on the stand that he was innocent.
Throughout the proceedings, he carried tokens from his children, including a Minecraft warrior sent by his son for good luck.
The jurors endured a bit in just over a month — 21 days of which were in trial.
One of the original 16 was hit by a car, two suffered deaths in their immediate families and a fourth was dismissed after telling fellow panelists he’d already made up his mind while complaining about the length of the trial.
At one point there was a lengthy discussion of continuing with only 11 jurors because yet another member of the panel had vacation plans. The possibility of a two-week break was raised, but the conflict with the juror was quickly resolved.
Two trial days were cancelled by snow, another by a flooded courthouse, and three others had already been cut short by the weather.
Those testifying besides the girl, the nanny and Leaf himself included his father-in-law, who flew from Poland to tell the jurors in Hackensack that child pornography found on a desktop computer seized from the family room of the Leaf home in Wyckoff was his.
The jurors found Leaf guilty of all charges — aggravated sexual assault (rape), sexual assault, child endangerment, possession of child pornography and tampering with evidence.
STORY / PHOTOS: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter
Charles Leaf to wife: ‘Tell the kids I love them’ after child sex assault conviction
YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: “Tell the kids I love them, Monica,” Charles Leaf shouted to his wife as Bergen County Sheriff’s officers led him from a Hackensack courtroom moments after jurors this afternoon convicted the Emmy-winning former Fox 5 investigative reporter of sexually assaulting a 4-year-old girl and of possessing child pornography on his home computer in Wyckoff. READ MORE….
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Father-in-law testifies that child pornography found on computer of Charles Leaf was his
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Surprise revelation in child sex trial: Fox 5 reporter’s work computer searched for kiddie porn
EXCLUSIVE: A retired investigator testified today that Bergen County detectives searched for child pornography on the work computer of former Fox 5 reporter Charles Leaf — a fact apparently not told to defense lawyers or prosecutors before his child sex abuse trial began this week. READ MORE ….
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Investigator in TV reporter child sex trial talks of gap in victim interview recording
EXCLUSIVE: The second day in the child sex-abuse trial of former Fox 5 reporter Charles Leaf in Hackensack today featured a former investigator testifying about an interview she observed with the then-4-year-old girl who prosecutors say was the victim. READ MORE ….
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Girl, 8, in sex-assault trial says Fox TV reporter didn’t molest her
UPDATE: Showing considerable composure, an 8-year-old girl testified in Hackensack today that former FOX 5 reporter Charles Leaf never touched her and that molestation allegations she made to a therapist years ago were fed to her by her nanny, whom she called “Weronika.” READ MORE ….
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