Crime

Convicted child molester back in Cambria — but his freedom may be short-lived

Ronald John Cowan of Cambria was released from state prison last week after an appellate court reversed a 2014 conviction for child molestation. He is currently free on bail as prosecutors prepare to retry him later this month.
Ronald John Cowan of Cambria was released from state prison last week after an appellate court reversed a 2014 conviction for child molestation. He is currently free on bail as prosecutors prepare to retry him later this month.

Three years into his 65-year prison sentence for molesting a young boy, a Cambria man is back in the community following a successful appeal.

But Ronald John Cowan’s freedom may be short-lived as prosecutors prepare to retry him for the crimes later this month.

Cowan, 60, was convicted in 2014 of five counts of felony child molestation. According to court records, the crimes were reported in 2012 by a foster parent after the boy, who was a family friend of Cowan’s, told the parent that Cowan had abused him over a two-year period from 2010 to 2012, while his mother was incarcerated on drug charges. The boy was 6 to 8 years old at the time of the abuse.

The evidence against Cowan was overwhelming, according to Tribune archives, but a state appellate court ruling in February reversed those convictions based on statements the prosecutor made to jurors during her closing arguments. It was the second time the appellate court heard the case after denying an initial appeal.

According to the Second District Court of Appeals ruling, Deputy District Attorney Kelly Manderino’s closing argument stated: “Let me tell you that presumption (of innocence) is over. Because that presumption is in place only when the charges are read. But now you have heard all the evidence. That presumption is gone.”

“It is misconduct to misinform the jury that the presumption of innocence is ‘gone’ prior to the jury’s deliberations. It strikes at the very heart of our system of criminal justice,” the ruling reads.

The DA’s Office and even Cowan’s trial attorney, Jeffry Radding, took issue with the ruling, saying the statement did not affect the ultimate outcome of the case. Radding wasn’t involved in the appeal.

According to Terry Thornton, spokeswoman for California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Cowan received a court-ordered discharge on May 31.

He was most recently being housed at Kern Valley State Prison until May 24, when he was transferred to California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo. He had previously been housed at Wasco State Prison, California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison in Corcoran, and Salinas Valley State Prison.

After the District Attorney’s Office reinstated its charges against Cowan last week, he was taken into custody of the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office and booked into County Jail, according to Assistant District Attorney Lee Cunningham. He was released on Saturday after posting an unknown amount of bail.

Cunningham said Monday that prosecutors will ask a judge to increase Cowan’s bail at a court hearing Wednesday. A second trial is scheduled to begin jury selection on June 19, according to court records.

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