OCALA, Fla. – An Ocala man is accused of luring an 8-year-old girl into his home and sexually battering her, according to the Marion County Sheriff's Office.
Sydney Allan Markland, 68, told deputies that the child was "wearing provocative clothing" during the July 2016 assault, a news release said. The victim told authorities that she knew Markland in passing because they live in the same neighborhood, so when he appeared injured and asked her if she would help him carry some fried chicken into the house, she agreed, deputies said.
Markland, who goes by the nickname "Dread," sexually battered the victim and told her not to tell anyone, according to a news release.
The girl told a parent, who called law enforcement. DNA samples were collected from the victim's and after several months, they proved to be a match with Markland.
Detectives wrote in their report the girl told them that Markland "told her not to tell anyone, kissed her on the cheek and read from the Bible" after the assault.
Deputies said Markland told that in his culture his actions are considered acceptable. He also said the child's clothing and "actions" suggested consent, officials said.
"She was wearing provocative clothing," Markland said during his confession, according to what detectives wrote in their report. "Her actions suggested that she was consenting to sexual contact."
After his arrest Friday, Markland admitted to detectives that he sexual battered the girl after eating chicken wings and praying with her, detectives said.
"When she (started) running and crying (with) her pants down, I knew something was up," said neighbor Steve Sarju. "I know something was up but I was scared because he always had guns and I didn't want to go up there."
News 6 asked Markland's brother about the alleged assault when he briefly stopped at Markland's house Monday afternoon.
"Does his culture say it's OK to rape little girls?" asked News 6 anchor Erik von Ancken.
"No," answered Markland's brother.
"Why would he say that?" asked von Ancken.
"I wouldn't know that, sir," answered Markland's brother. "He's a good person, all he (does) is teach people to read the Bible and stuff, that's all I know about him."
Neighbors confirmed that Markland would preach to people, including children, when they walked by his home.
"Oh my gosh I can't believe it, because I'll be honest with you, he preaches the Bible, he knows it inside out," said neighbor Frank Ley. "Everybody that walks by there will sit with him and pray, God is the light in our salvation, we always sit there, congregate two or three people at one time."
Markland is charged with sexual assault on a victim under 12 years old, lewd and lascivious behavior, molest victim less than 12 years old and crimes against a person lure and entice child under 12 years old.
Marion County Sheriff's Office public information Officer Lauren Lettelier said authorities waited to make the arrest until they had a strong case.
"Sometimes, these cases take longer to build so we have as strong of a case as possible, especially when it goes to trial," Lettelier said. "The DNA came back in November 2016."
He's being held without bond in the Marion County Jail.
Deputies said Markland could have more victims because he's familiar with children in the neighborhood.
"We don’t have any direct evidence to believe that he may have molested any other children, but he has not been truthful with us so we are still asking if anyone who could be a victim to come forward," Lettelier said.
Neighbors said they see children stopping by Markland's home all the time.
"Kids will go in there and he will give them candy and stuff," said neighbor Steve Sarju. "Not to go inside, he will stay on his porch and say ‘Have a candy.’"
Anyone who might know if more possible victims is asked to call Detective Daniel Pinder at 352-368-3508 or to remain anonymous, contact the Crime Stoppers of Marion County at 352-368-STOP.