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Knox County Jury Recommends Life Sentence Plus 45 Years Following Sodomy, Molestation Trial

By Echo Menges

Edina, MO – Friday, June 3, 2022 – A Knox County Jury has found John Michael Cleary, 76, of Kirksville, guilty of one count of first-degree statutory sodomy with a child under 12 years old, a Class B felony, and three felony counts of child molestation.

The twelve-person jury recommended to the court that Cleary be sentenced to life in prison plus 45 years.

One child was approximately five years old at the time the molestations began in 2009, according to court documents and testimony in court. Another child, who was developmentally delayed and five years old at the time of the molestation in 2012, was molested at the Lake Road Chapel Church located outside of Kirksville during a church service and witnessed by a parishioner, according to court testimony and court documents.

The daylong trial, including a pre-trial conference, jury selection, trial proceedings, and jury deliberations, began Friday morning at around 8:41 a.m. and concluded at around 4:15 p.m.

Forty-five prospective jurors were called for jury selection, which lasted roughly an hour-and-a-half before the 12-person jury of seven women and five men were seated. One alternate, juror number 13, was also selected from the jury pool.

During the selection process the prospective jurors were asked a battery of questions by Knox County Associate Circuit Judge Tom Redington, who presided over the case, No. 20AR-CR00348-01.

The case was moved to Knox County on a change of venue from Adair County in March of this year.

The State was represented by Adair County Prosecutor David Goring. Cleary represented himself.

Cleary chose not to question any of the witnesses, nor did the defendant present opening or closing arguments during the trial.

Witness Testimony

Three witnesses took the stand during the trial including Kirksville Police Department Sgt. Steve Feeney who investigated the case in 2019, Lisa Tillison who witnessed Cleary molest a child at the church in 2012, and one of the victims, whose name is not being released by this newspaper.

Sgt. Feeney testified the case began on July 31, 2019, when Cleary turned himself in to law enforcement at the Kirksville Police Department and confessed to Feeney, who was a detective at the time, to inappropriately touching two children.

Sgt. Feeney testified the first child was molested at Cleary’s residence, 707 South Cottage Grove, with the five-year-old victim beginning in 2008 or 2009.

“He advised he touched her on the genital area,” said Sgt. Steve Feeney.

“That day we started an investigation with the Children’s Division,” said Sgt. Feeney.

Feeney testified he spoke to the parents of the victim, the mother reported being told what was happening by the victim, and Cleary denied it to the mother.

During Feeney’s testimony, the only exhibit to be entered into the record was an audio/video recording of Cleary’s confession, which included the voices of Cleary and Sgt. Feeney.

Prosecutor Goring played the video for the jury. In the video, Cleary confessed to “touching” the first victim at the shared home while the parents were in another room.

In the audio/video, Cleary made the following statements:

“I talked with my Pastors at the time. The first thing they told me was I needed to leave the house.”

“It probably happened six or seven times over a period of four years.”

“She was eight when I met with the Pastor.”

“She didn’t say anything. She seemed to be receptive at the time. She didn’t fight it.”

The audio/video lasted roughly ten minutes. Afterward, Sgt. Feeney continued his testimony telling the jury that Cleary told Feeney he touched the victims to “give them pleasure” and that he would “go to the bathroom and (relieve himself)” after molesting the first victim.

Judge Redington asked Cleary if he wanted to question the witness, to which Cleary replied only, “No thank you.”

The second witness to take the stand, Lisa Tillison, told the court she knew Cleary from attending church with him, and that she saw Cleary fondling the second victim in June of 2012.

“It was a Wednesday night service. I was sitting toward the front,” said Lisa Tillison.

“She was sitting a row or two behind me,” said Lisa Tillison.

“I turned around and saw Mike Cleary fondling her,” said Lisa Tillison.

“It was something going on for a period of time,” said Lisa Tillison.

“She is not verbal,” said Lisa Tillison.

“His thumb was definitely in her private area,” said Lisa Tillison.

“She was five at the time,” said Lisa Tillison.

When asked if he had any questions for the witness by Judge Redington, Cleary only stated, “No thank you.”

The final witness to take the stand was a victim. The names of juvenile victims are not released by this newspaper.

The victim was only on the witness stand for a few minutes.

“He (Cleary) lived with us for quite a few years at the beginning of my life,” said the victim.

“I only have one memory. I was under ten,” said the victim.

“He slid his hand around me and into my pants and…” said the victim.

Cleary did not ask the victim any questions.

The testimony portion of the trial lasted only one hour and 23 minutes before the court recessed for lunch.

The judge instructed the jury to refrain from looking the case up online, and asked them to stay together for lunch at Lucky’s Cafe. Court staff and law enforcement accompanied the jury during the lunch break.

Verdicts

After lunch, the jury heard the Prosecutor’s closing arguments asking them to find the defendant guilty. Cleary did not give any closing arguments.

The jury retired to the jury room by 1:34 p.m. to deliberate on the case and to determine if Cleary was guilty or not guilty on each of the six charges against him.

The jury deliberated for roughly two hours before delivering their verdicts. During deliberations they asked several questions and asked to watch the confession interview again, before making their decisions.

After finding Cleary guilty of four of the six charges against him, the jury went back into deliberations to determine a sentencing recommendation on the four charges Cleary was found guilty of.

The allowable sentence on the Class B felony charge ranges from ten years to life in prison for count three, staturory sodomy with a child under 12-years-old – first degree. The allowable sentence for counts four through six, felony counts of child molestation with a child under 14-years-old, the sentence range is five to 15 years in prison.

The Knox County jury came back from roughly 30 minutes of deliberation to recommend the maximum sentence on each charge adding up to life in prison plus 45 years.

Cleary is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Redington, who will make the final determination on Cleary’s sentence, on July 5, 2022 at the Knox County Courtroom.