Martins Ferry Man Convicted of Child Rape
ST. CLAIRSVILLE — After six hours of deliberations over the course of two days, weighing the testimony of three child victims, a jury returned a guilty verdict against Michael Runnion.
Runnion, 31, of Martins Ferry was found guilty of two counts of first-degree felony rape and one count of gross sexual imposition, a felony of the third degree. All occurred in December 2018.
Belmont County Common Pleas Judge John Vavra set Runnion’s sentencing hearing for June 21. A pre-sentence investigation and victim impact statement were ordered. Runnion faces a maximum of 15 years to life on each rape count and five years for gross sexual imposition.
He will be designated a Tier 3 sex offender and if released will be required to register with his local sheriff’s office for life.
Charges stem from allegations that Runnion committed the crimes while staying at another family’s home in Martins Ferry. Each of the three female victims was younger than 14. The investigation began when a family member saw inappropriate communication from Runnion on one of the girls’ phones.
The trial began Tuesday and concluded Thursday, with jury deliberations going into Friday morning. The state called multiple witnesses, including a Martins Ferry police officer. The three child victims each took the stand and testified. The Belmont County Sheriff’s Office therapy dog, Jersey, was called in to provide emotional support to the children and the mother.
Belmont County Prosecutor Kevin Flanagan commended the victims for telling their stories.
“It can be very unsettling for a child to come into a courtroom and not only see a judge that is peering down at them, but also a group of jurors that are listening to their every word. In addition to that, you have the person that committed these horrific acts against them sitting not more than 25 feet across from them when they testify,” Flanagan said.
“In this case, it was our child victims that really helped us secure the guilty verdicts,” Flanagan said. “These trials are never easy.”
The jury also viewed multiple hours of videos of the first interviews with the girls conducted at Harmony House, a children’s advocacy and social services center. During the course of deliberations, the jury also requested to see the video interviews again.
Flanagan commented on the delicacy of questioning a young child about such experiences while getting accurate information in a courtroom setting.
“Every child is different. Every child reacts differently. Every child remembers things differently. In these cases, the different types of children that we deal with really can determine the outcome. Their ability to concentrate or focus is key,” he said. “We are asking them to essentially recount perhaps the worst thing that will ever happen to them in their lives. It is extremely difficult to get a child to be able to produce the testimony that is necessary to achieve the burden of … proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”
“We had an excellent jury in terms of their conscientiousness, their attention to all the details,” Vavra said. “They were very diligent in terms of their deliberations. … I also hope this gives some peace of mind to the victims and their families.”
“They absolutely did their due diligence,” Flanagan said.
Flanagan thanked Harmony House, the Southeastern Ohio Regional Medical Center and the Martins Ferry Police Department for the investigation.
The defense called no witnesses and Runnion did not take the stand.