A jury returned a verdict of guilty on two of four counts a Rogers County man faced during his trial this week.
John Newton Pettit, 39, was found guilty of lewd molestation and escape from arrest after the jury deliberated for approximately one hour and 20 minutes Wednesday afternoon. Pettit was also charged with rape by instrumentation and lewd and indecent proposal, but was found not guilty of those charges.
The jury recommended a sentence of 40 years in prison for lewd molestation and one year in the Rogers County Jail for escape from arrest. Pettit will be formally sentenced at 1:30 p.m. Feb. 7 in Rogers County District Court.
Pettit is currently serving time in prison on unrelated cases. He is a six time convicted felon, according to court records, which stiffens the recommended sentence from the jury.
The charges stem from an incident two Chelsea area teens alleged occurred at Winganon Ramp at Oologah Lake in July 2005.
According to court records and testimony, the then 15- and 11-year-old girls said they had been swimming in the lake on July 7, 2005, when Pettit began making hand gestures at them that were inappropriate. They also stated, according to Assistant District Attorney Patrick Abitbol’s closing statement, that Pettit had physically molested the 15-year-old.
Testimony from Donald Lee, one of the victim’s father, revealed that the girls informed him immediately of what Pettit had allegedly done, and he then called the Rogers County Sheriff’s Office.
“They met me at my property up in Alluwe because (Pettit) had some stolen property in my camper,” Lee testified. “Then they arrested (Pettit) and put him in the car.”
At that time, Pettit was placed under arrest for outstanding warrants from the City of Chelsea. The allegations of sexual assault were not mentioned at that time, according to testimony.
According to Rogers County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Mike McElhaney, shortly after placing Pettit in the patrol car, he escaped.
“A female was with Mr. Lee and she began to honk the horn and scream ‘he’s running’,” McElhaney told the jury. In fact, Pettit had escaped the patrol car and ran into a heavily wooded area while handcuffed.
A search then began involving the Rogers County Sheriff’s Office, Chelsea Police Department, Talala Police Department, Oologah Police Department, Nowata County Sheriff’s Office, a game warden or two and a helicopter flown by a civilian from the Chelsea area. However, Pettit was not found that day but was arrested at a later date.
Initially, Pettit faced seven charges including the two he was found guilty of and the two in which he was found not guilty. An additional charge of larceny from a person involving the taking of handcuffs was dismissed after the prosecution rested on Wednesday.
Two additional charges, possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia, were dismissed by the court at the beginning of the trial.