By Jason A. Smith
A Stockbridge man on trial in his daughter's beating death spent much of his time in court Tuesday with his head in his hands as witnesses testified about the girl's injuries.
Rodney Michael Reaves, 42, is charged with malice murder, two counts of felony murder, cruelty to children and aggravated battery. Authorities believe he and his wife, Charlott Reaves, caused numerous injuries to 11-year-old Joella Reaves in the final days before the child's death in 2003. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Rodney and Charlott Reaves, who are being tried separately.
During Tuesday's proceedings, prosecutors showed a video of statements Rodney Reaves made to Henry County Police after Joella's body was found at the couple's home. In the video, Reaves said his wife was the primary disciplinarian for the child because he was often away on duty at a naval station in Virginia.
Rodney Reaves said on the tape Charlott was having trouble controlling Joella because of behavior issues, which included "throwing herself on the ground" and injuring herself. According to Rodney Reaves, Joella's actions led him to attempt, unsuccessfully, to obtain a transfer to Atlanta.
"I felt like [Joella] needed her whole family there, not just one parent," Rodney Reaves said.
Rodney Reaves was also seen on the video telling detectives Joella never told him about the extent of her injuries. He claimed he had nothing to do with harming the girl, and said Charlott Reaves "had to" have been the person responsible. "I would not harm my daughter that way," he told police.
The video shows Rodney Reaves crying as he was being interviewed for more than an hour.
Detective Marion Brooks was shown questioning Reaves at the police department, though he did not testify Tuesday. During the interview, Brooks told Reaves, "I think your wife did it, and you didn't stop her. That makes you as guilty as she is."
Police Capt. Ken Turner, who also participated in the interview, said Rodney Reaves was "cooperative" and "emotional" as he talked with detectives.
The jury also heard several hours of testimony from Dr. Gerald Gowitt, a medical examiner who performed an autopsy on the girl's body. Gowitt testified Joella suffered more than 100 injuries in the days before she died.
"I couldn't count them, there were so many," he said.
Gowitt said many of the child's wounds were consistent with items found at the Reaves' home. Those items included a wooden spoon and a University of Georgia umbrella, which police said were used to beat the child.
Rodney Reaves put his head to the defense team's desk as prosecutors showed photographs of injuries Gowitt found on Joella's head, arms, back, chest and legs. The doctor said the victim's trapezius muscle had been "ripped" off the spine of her shoulder blade, and that other injuries Joella sustained had caused her to develop kidney disease.
"Part of the reason Joella is dead, is because of kidney failure," Gowitt said.
He used the word "torture" to describe what Joella allegedly endured, drawing an objection from Reaves' defense attorney, Public Defender Gary Bowman. Bowman said no evidence had been given to warrant the use of that term, and moved for a mistrial in the case.
Henry County District Attorney Tommy Floyd immediately shot back at Bowman's assertion, telling Judge Wade Crumbley, "Your honor, we've been talking about torture for the last three hours."
The judge denied Bowman's request just before adjourning for the day. Rodney Reaves was seen bursting into tears and sobbing as he was led out of the courtroom.
The defense is expected to begin cross-examining Gowitt today, as the state continues presenting its case.