Beaufort News

Charges dropped, but investigation ongoing for Iacopelli

Editor's note: In December of 2015, Iacopelli sued the town of Port Royal. The lawsuit alleges that Iacopelli was slandered and maliciously prosecuted by the police department. The suit is pending. 

Though the charge was dismissed Friday, the case can still be taken to a grand jury for possible indictment if the 14th Circuit Solicitor's Office gathers more evidence against Iacopelli, Newman said.

Iacopelli, a husband, father of four, and former local insurance agent, has lost his job after he was accused, Newman said.

"All throughout the investigation he maintained his innocence," Newman said. "He cooperated with law enforcement. So, he and his family are relieved."

Newman said that if the Solicitor's Office does get an indictment , Iacopelli would have to appear in court to be arraigned, have his bond reset and that he and his client would "deal with the case from there."

In the meantime, Newman said Iacopelli has the support of friends and family.

"Fortunately he has very strong friends in the community that have rallied behind him," Newman said. "He's lost his job over this. ... But certainly all through this Joel is presumed innocent under our constitution."

Through his attorney, Iacopelli declined to speak Friday. Newman said his client most likely wouldn't until they knew more about a possible indictment.

Possible indictment

Iacopelli was charged after the 4-year-old told her mother he touched her inappropriately.

When asked to defend the decision to arrest Iacopelli, Port Royal Police Chief Alan Beach said he would not comment on anything involving the case. He referred all questions to the Solicitor's Office when asked if Iacopelli was arrested too quickly.

When asked Friday by The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette if he stood by the charges originally filed against Iacopelli, 14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone said he could not answer that question without revealing details of the case, which remains under investigation.

Of a possible indictment, Stone said he first needs to determine whether there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt through further analysis of evidence.

That evidence includes the clothes the child wore during the class, which were collected by law enforcement for testing a day after her mother reported the incident. It also includes Iacopelli's computers, home security footage and an iPad seized using a search warrant executed shortly after his arrest.

Iacopelli's cell phone was also taken. Chief Investigator Robert Bilyard of the Port Royal Police Department said during the preliminary hearing that no evidence of value was found on the phone.

Stone would not comment on the pending evidence analysis, and said further evidence could come into play.

"Evidence is constantly being developed," Stone said. "I don't know if I've ever had a trial where they had all the evidence they needed before they go to trial."

A 4-year-old's accusation

To make the arrest, Stone said law enforcement presented the allegation to a magistrate judge, who determines if there is enough probable cause to issue an arrest warrant.

Brooks said during the preliminary that he signed the warrant.

Asked about basing the charge on the word of a 4 year old, Stone said, "We have 4-year-old victims sometimes. It is highly emotional for the person charged and highly emotional for the family itself. These are serious issues and they have to be dealt with seriously."

He also cited state law that says the testimony of victims involved in alleged sexual conduct does not need to be corroborated.

The child's story changed several times and she told her father she made up the allegation, Chief Investigator Robert Bilyard of the Port Royal Police Department said during the preliminary hearing.

Stone said it is not unusual for alleged underage victims of sexual assault to change their story after he or she is confronted by adults.

While corroboration is not required in such cases, there is apparently no video evidence from the church classroom.

None of the five cameras in the church's Sunday school building point directly into the classroom.

During the preliminary hearing, Newman showed 17 minutes from the church's surveillance footage from the day of the incident.

Assistant Solicitor Mary Jordan Lempesis contended Iacopelli was alone on two occasions with children in the classroom.

Newman said the number of people in the building's hallway checking on classrooms -- all of which had their doors open -- made the child's account "improbable."

Even as others walked the halls, the video shows that Iacopelli was alone with the child and other children for approximately five minutes over two occasions while the class' teacher took children to the restroom.

The child's mother also told police she dropped her daughter off around 9:15 a.m. to Iacopelli and the teacher.

Surveillance footage provided by the defense shows Iacopelli and the teacher do not arrive on church property until after 11 a.m.

A search for peace

Many church members have stood behind Iacopelli since his arrest and continue to do so.

They turned out in large numbers for his preliminary hearing, filling one side of Brooks' courtroom.

"We are probably the most faithest church as far as our children are concerned," member Sherry Dryg said outside the preliminary hearing. "We've been praying for Joel, but we are also praying for the girl and her family."

Senior Pastor Carl Broggi was away from the church for the birth of a grandchild Friday and unavailable for comment

Despite that support, Newman says his client faces a difficult task as he tries to rebuild his life.

"I just hope Joel and his family can find peace from this," Newman said. "Obviously a man of good solid character and reputation, he's going to have to now start over again and rebuild that reputation, which I feel confident he can do."

Follow Caitlin Turner on Twitter at twitter.com/Cait_E_Turner.

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