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Man gets life sentence in molestation of girl

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

Joseph Reid Bearfield, a 41-year-old maintenance man who worked for the county school system, lured a little girl into his apartment and tried to rape her, a Clayton County jury found.

After a four-day trial, jurors convicted the Morrow man of child molestation and assault.

On Sept. 1, 2007, Bearfield convinced the 9-year-old girl, and her friend, to come to his second-story apartment to help him pass out flyers, said prosecutor Anece Baxter White. He then sent the younger girl home, got the 9-year-old to take off her shorts, and started to touch her inappropriately, but was interrupted by the girl's older brother.

The older brother, testifying Tuesday morning, said he heard his sister screaming for help and kicked down the door. When he got inside, his sister had been thrown off the second-story balcony and Bearfield was standing there, by the discarded shorts.

The brother positively identified the man who was in the apartment when he kicked down the door as Bearfield.

The 9-year-old told the jury when she was thrown off the balcony, she couldn't breath, and she thought she was going to die.

Bearfield fled from the apartment, White said, jumping down a flight of stairs, speeding away in his car, which jumped over a curb, crashed over a fence into another apartment parking lot, and hit a parked car so hard he pushed it into another parked car.

He then hid out for the weekend in the school district's maintenance building, where he worked -- a stay documented by security video and empty beer bottles. He later stole a repair truck, White said. The truck was found in Atlanta on the Monday after the attempted rape.

The jury deliberated for four hours before reaching a verdict, a length of time the prosecuting attorney said was due to thoroughness, not doubt.

White said she thought the jury was persuaded by the 9-year-old victim's confident testimony, as well as the testimony of her 8-year-old friend and 18-year-old brother.

In closing arguments, White referred the jury to those witnesses, while Bearfield's attorney, Lloyd Matthews, said they should consider the lack of DNA evidence, and the report of a nameless, homeless man who may have also been staying in Bearfield's apartment.

He asked the jury to suppose the state was prosecuting an innocent man, and said, maybe, molestation didn't happen, or, maybe, it did happen and it was done by someone else.

Superior Court Judge Deborah Benefield sentenced Bearfield to life in prison, the maximum possible sentence.