Defense opens in Reaves murder case

By Jason A. Smith


Attorneys for a man accused of killing his daughter began making a case on behalf of their client Wednesday during his capital murder trial.

Lawyers for 42-year-old Rodney Michael Reaves contended prosecutors failed to establish he was responsible for the 2003 death of 11-year-old Joella Reaves. He faces one count of malice murder and two counts of felony murder, as well as charges of cruelty to children and aggravated battery.

His wife, Charlott, faces the same charges and is expected to be tried in April.

Prosecutors allege the couple tied Joella Reaves up in the garage of their Stockbridge home and beat her with a baseball bat and a wooden spoon over several days. Rodney and Charlott Reaves could face the death penalty if convicted.

Rodney Reaves' attorneys called Richard Hill, a former member of the Henry County Police Department's Crime Scene Unit, to the stand Wednesday. The retired officer said that on the day Rodney Reaves found his daughter dead in her bed, he was "calm" and "talkative" with authorities who were questioning him.

Rodney Reaves' mother, Carrie James, lived with the couple briefly in 1999, and described Charlott as a "controlling" presence in the couple's relationship. Superior Court Judge Wade Crumbley did not allow James to elaborate on her assertions in the presence of the jury, and said her remarks were not relevant to the case against Rodney Reaves.

Navy Chief Petty Officer Kevin Sowell worked with Rodney Reaves when he was assigned to the U.S.S. Wasp, and said he spoke with him by phone the night before Joella's body was found.

"He told me his daughter was sick, and that he needed to go back down to Georgia," Sowell said.

The proceedings began Wednesday with more testimony from Dr. Gerald Gowitt, a medical examiner who performed the autopsy on the child's body. Gowitt, who also testified Tuesday, said he found evidence of old and new scars on Joella's body, as well as a number of bruises and abrasions.

"The majority of her injuries appeared to be recent," Gowitt said.

Gowitt, who has done more than 20,000 autopsies in his career, said he was unable to determine exactly when the child died.

"Children are so variable in size that it hasn't been worked out how long it takes for a child's body to cool off or to become stiff," Gowitt said. "I couldn't back up how I would arrive at a time of death for her, based on the parameters I use."

Gowitt told Reaves' attorney, Public Defender Gary Bowman, that he is unable to determine whether the injuries Joella sustained were caused by a man or a woman. He said the nature of the child's wounds indicate a "considerable amount of force" was used.

"There's more to it than falling down the stairs," he said.

The jury also heard testimony Wednesday from Charles Corva, a counselor and licensed clinical social worker who met with members of the Reaves family several times about Charlott Reaves' claims that Joella was suffering "behavior and adjustment problems."

Corva testified Charlott, the child's stepmother, told him Joella was having issues with lying, defiance and anger control, as well as difficulty dealing with the death of her birth mother the previous year.

Corva said Joella Reaves was often "withdrawn" during the counseling sessions, many of which Rodney Reaves missed because of his military duties. Corva said he "did not notice any major change" in the child's demeanor when Charlott Reaves was present for sessions with the girl.

Defense attorneys are expected to continue presenting their case today.