Zimmerman Found Guilty of Sexual Abuse in Wheeling

Photo by Kylie Weisenborn Richard Zimmerman, back, stands next to his attorney, Keith Hart, during Zimmerman’s sexual abuse trial.

WHEELING — Almost nine hours of deliberation ended Friday with an Ohio County jury finding a Wheeling man guilty of sexually abusing a teenage girl during a sleepover last year.

The jury returned a guilty verdict against Richard William Zimmerman on one count of first-degree sexual abuse. He was acquitted on an accompanying charge of second-degree sexual assault.

Jury selection and testimony in the trial began Wednesday, and jurors got the case Thursday afternoon before being dismissed for the evening around 9 p.m. They returned Friday morning and ultimately determined Zimmerman, 37, woke a teenage girl who was having a sleepover with his daughter and sexually abused her at a South Wheeling home in February 2015.

The atmosphere in the courtroom was emotional as the verdict was read, with the strain evident on the faces of several jurors.

“I think that the state and the victim are grateful and proud of this verdict,” said Ohio County Assistant Prosecutor Shawn Turak. “It is not a complete win, but it certainly represents the fact that 12 people believed the victim in this case and they knew that she was sexually abused by a man whom I believe the state showed to be a predator toward young teenagers.”

Zimmerman will be sentenced on Sept. 19 by Circuit Judge James Mazzone. After the trial, Turak discussed the penalty Zimmerman will face.

“He is looking at not less than one and not more than five years in prison,” Turak said. “He will be required to register as a sex offender for life and he is looking at supervised release when he is released from incarceration for up to 50 years.”

Turak said she honors and respects the jury’s decision to acquit Zimmerman on the second-degree sexual assault charge — but she doesn’t agree with it.

“We believe that Richard Zimmerman is guilty of both counts and the fact that the jury deliberated for almost eight and a half hours lends me to believe that perhaps many of them also believed the same,” Turak said.

During the trial, the defense attempted to argue the victim consented to the acts, noting none of the other girls present woke up during the incident.

Witnesses in the case included the victim, who was 17 at the time of the incident. She testified she and three friends, including Zimmerman’s daughter, were having a sleepover at Zimmerman’s home after a Wheeling Park High School basketball game.

Zimmerman covered her mouth and continued to touch her inappropriately despite multiple requests to stop, the victim testified.

Other witnesses Wednesday included the other girls present at the sleepover, who testified to the victim’s emotional state after the assault.

On Thursday, the jury heard from two girls who testified to receiving inappropriate messages via text and social media. Although police were unable to recover those messages from Zimmerman, West Virginia State Police Sgt. Scott Adams testified he found seven photos of the victim downloaded from Instagram and saved on Zimmerman’s phone.

Jurors deliberated for more than five hours Thursday before requesting a break for the night, which Mazzone granted.