Hung jury in therapy sex trial

LAWRENCEVILLE -- A stymied jury couldn't decide this week whether former psychotherapist Cliff Tillery acted criminally in having sex with a patient during in-office sessions in 2007.

After jurors deliberated nearly as long as the trial lasted, Superior Court Judge Melodie Snell Conner declared a mistrial Thursday, said Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Taylor. A new trial is pending.

Neither side denies the consensual sex happened. Prosecutors believe Tillery preyed upon the psychological wounds of the alleged victim -- a Gwinnett preschool teacher with a history of alcohol and sexual abuse, she testified -- in order to engage in sexual activity more than 20 times at his Norcross office.

He charged an hourly rate of $85 for most sessions. Both parties were married with children at the time.

Tillery's defender contends the seasoned therapist was lured into sex by his patient's flirtatious behavior.

As a result of the charges, Tillery, the owner of Bright Horizons Inc., lost his practice as a licensed counselor working with drug addicts, sex addicts and alcoholics. He'd spent more than 20 years in the field before surrendering his license after his July 2008 arrest.

The woman, 32, said she met Tillery at a church where she was seeking Alcoholics Anonymous groups. The Daily Post does not identify alleged victims of sex abuse.

Tillery is charged with two counts of sexual assault by a practitioner of psychotherapy against a patient.

Court records show the alleged victim has not filed a civil suit against Tillery. She testified earlier this week her motivation was not to reap financial benefits, but to protect other patients.

In early 2008, she demanded a reimbursement of $1,000 from Tillery, which he paid while asking she keep the affair under wraps, she testified.

Authorities believe the alleged assaults were isolated incidents.

Tillery's defense attorney, Dylan Wilbanks, said the alleged victim is vindictive and as much at fault for the sexual conduct as his client. She went so far as to volley insults at Tillery's wife via a personal blog while he was treating her, Wilbanks argued.

Neither attorney could be reached for comment Thursday afternoon. It's unclear when the case might next be called to court.

A conviction of sexual assault by a psychotherapist could result in a prison sentence between 10 and 30 years, according to Georgia statute. Consent cannot be used as a defense, the law says.

Tillery posted $55,200 bond four days after his arrest and remains free.