Jury weighs evidence in maintenance man's trial

By Daniel Silliman


A Clayton County jury heard closing arguments in the case of a school maintenance man charged with attempting to rape a 9-year-old girl.

The defense attorney told the jury the evidence didn't quite prove Joseph Reid Bearfield, 41, lured a little girl into his apartment last September and inappropriately touched her. It could have been someone else, attorney Lloyd Matthews said, and maybe it didn't happen.

"Suppose, just suppose," Matthews said Thursday morning, "the state is wrongly accusing Mr. Joseph Reid Bearfield, when, in fact, it was somebody else who did this ... Remember, ladies and gentlemen, the state has to prove its case. They can't just say, 'We think he's a perv, we want you to convict him.'"

Anece Baxter White, assistant district attorney, told the jury to remember the 9-year-old girl's testimony about how the man touched her, and to remember the testimony of the girl's friend, who said they both went to the man's Morrow apartment, and then she was sent away. White told the jury to recall the testimony of the girl's 18-year-old brother, who heard her crying for help and busted through the door of apartment Z-4, to find his sister had been thrown off a second-story balcony, in her underwear, and her shorts were there on the floor, with Bearfield.

"Ladies and gentlemen, you heard the evidence," White said to the jury. "So let's talk about what happened ... These two girls met a person, Mr. Joseph Bearfield, and he asked them if they wanted to pass out flyers. When people want to do horrible things to kids, they don't come up looking like a monster. The come up looking like everyday people, always asking for assistance."

According to White, the 41-year-old maintenance man told the girl, who is not being named because of the nature of the alleged crime, to talk off her jean shorts. Then he touched her inappropriately, White said, before her brother interrupted. "And aren't we glad?" White asked the jury.

Matthews said Bearfield didn't live alone, though. He said Bearfield, who doesn't have a criminal history, is very religious, and he had taken in a young, homeless man a few days before. He said there were fingerprints in the apartment that didn't match Bearfield's, and there was no DNA found on the 9-year-old's underwear or shorts.

"Y'all could conclude," Matthews told the jury, "that some inappropriate, sexual things were done, without necessarily concluding that's my client. This little girl could have been sexually assaulted by somebody else."

White scoffed at Bearfield's suppose religious devotion and lack of criminal history, saying serial rapist and child killers sometimes go 20 years without getting caught. She also scoffed, during her closing argument, at the idea of a mysterious, nameless homeless man.

She said Bearfield fled from the apartment when confronted by the girl's older brother. He ran out of Z-4, jumped down a stairwell and sped away in his car. He drove over a curb, White said, crashed through a fence into another apartment complex, smashed a parked car sideways into the next parked car, and then hid out, for a few days, at the school system's warehouse on Stockbridge Road.

"Would you do that," White asked, "all because it wasn't you?"

The jury was still weighing the evidence in deliberations, late Thursday afternoon. Bearfield faces a maximum possible sentence of life in prison.