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Juror says stalemate 'frustrating'

LAWRENCEVILLE -- A juror in the sexual assault trial of Lilburn psychotherapist Cliff Tillery called the stalemate in deliberations "frustrating" on Monday and condemned the prospect that he could treat patients again.

Tillery's attorney praised the steadfastness of jurors in the controversial case, predicting his client will be back in Gwinnett Superior Court to clear his name as early as next month.

The juror -- a 47-year-old Dacula man who works in banking and requested anonymity -- gave insight into the contentious deliberations that led Superior Court Judge Melodie Snell Conner to declare a mistrial Thursday.

The room was split 10-2 in favor of finding Tillery guilty on two counts of sexual assault by a practitioner of psychotherapy against a patient. The dissenters were a man and woman who'd made up their minds early and wouldn't budge, the juror said.

Most jurors couldn't be convinced that Tillery could "shut the door" on treatment and begin a relationship without twisting the psyche of his patient, the juror said.

"If (Tillery) was concerned with her condition, he should have referred her to someone else," he said.

The roughly 11/2 day trial called into question the boundaries between therapists and patients.

Tillery is accused of coercing the alleged victim -- a Gwinnett preschool teacher with a history of alcohol and sexual abuse, she testified -- into sexual activity more than 20 times at his Norcross office in 2007. She paid $85 per hour for most sessions.

Prosecutors believe Tillery preyed on her psychological wounds, while Tillery's defense contends her flirtatious behavior lured him in. Both parties were married with children at the time.

"Do I think she was a victim? Yes. Do I think she was a willing victim? Yes," the juror said. "(Tillery's) used to these kind of personalities, these manipulative types. While she may have had some ulterior motives, at the end of the day, he's the professional."

He called the idea that Tillery might practice therapy again unnerving.

Tillery had spent more than 20 years in the field before surrendering his license -- which remains suspended -- after his July 2008 arrest. His attorney wouldn't comment on the 46-year-old's current professional endeavors, citing privacy concerns.

As the owner of Bright Horizons Inc., Tillery worked with drug addicts, sex addicts and alcoholics.

The 32-year-old alleged victim in the case told the Daily Post last week she felt brainwashed by Tillery and wouldn't have considered him as a sexual partner in another situation. She thinks of their interactions as abuse, not an affair, she said.

Tillery's attorney, Dylan Wilbanks, commended the jury's efforts.

"It's an interesting case. I understand the jury's problems," Wilbanks said. "I'm confident they worked as hard as they could. I think they deliberated longer than we tried the case."

Wilbanks said no specific retrial date has been set, pending a slot on a trial calendar.

"I do expect it to come up fairly quickly -- maybe April or May," he said.

The alleged victim said she met Tillery at a church where she was seeking Alcoholics Anonymous groups. Court records show she has not filed a civil suit against Tillery. She testified her motivation was not to reap financial benefits, but to protect other patients.

The Daily Post does not identify alleged victims of sex abuse.

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.