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Reaves says son won't testify in murder trial

By Jason A. Smith

jsmith@henryherald.com

A father facing the death penalty for allegedly killing his daughter, has opted not to allow his son to testify in his defense.

Rodney Michael Reaves went against the advice of counsel Thursday, when he told Judge Wade Crumbley that putting his son, Rodney, Jr., on the stand would harm the boy more than it would help his case.

"I've been thinking about this for a long time," said Reaves. "I will take my chances with whatever's going to go on in this courtroom."

The defendant is charged with murder in the death of his daughter, 11-year-old Joella Reaves. His wife, Charlott Reaves, is also charged with the girl's death, and is scheduled to go to trial in April.

Rodney Reaves' defense attorneys presented witnesses who had interacted closely with Joella in the months before the child was found dead in her home in December of 2003. One of those witnesses was Patricia White, who was a counselor at Eagle's Landing Middle School, where Joella attended classes.

White said she had spoken with Joella on Sept. 11, 2003, after a teacher saw a bruise above the girl's eye.

"She said she ... had fallen off her skateboard, and into the garage door," said White.

The counselor reportedly met with Joella a few more times, but did not see any other bruises on her. According to White, the child gave no indication she had been abused.

"I asked her specifically if anyone at home, at school, on the bus, or in her neighborhood, had been hurting her in any way, and she specifically said, 'no.'"

White added that Joella never said anything negative to her, regarding anyone in her family.

Toni Bennett, Joella's former bus driver, also testified for the defense. She said she often saw Joella with "puffy eyes," and that she never rode the bus without wearing a sweater or a jacket.

"Her brother always told me she was sick," said Bennett.

Rodney Reaves' attorneys then shifted the jury's focus to discuss the defendant's relationship with his wife. The defense is contending that Charlott Reaves caused the majority of Joella's injuries.

Matthew Norman, a psychiatrist, testified about numerous encounters he had with Rodney Reaves from 2007 to 2008. Norman described the defendant as a "compliant" person whose wife controlled their relationship.

"Mr. Reaves is a 'yes person,' as opposed to someone who will stand up for himself," said Norman. "He would follow other people's orders, including Charlott's. He has a strong desire to please others."

As the day progressed, the defense began to experience difficulties, regarding the witnesses they sought to produce on Reaves' behalf. Judge Crumbley expressed apparent frustration with the defense outside the jury's presence, while waiting on a witness to arrive.

"I don't see any reason why you're having all these problems with your witnesses," he told Public Defender Gary Bowman. "They all should be here. This doesn't give the jury the best impression, as far as your preparedness."

Bowman's problems continued shortly after the witness, Dr. Marti Loring, came to court and started testifying. The defense had reportedly brought Loring in to address the conditions under which Rodney Reaves was living, to assist in explaining his behavior.

However, Henry District Attorney Tommy Floyd objected to Loring's testimony, saying it was not relevant to the issue of Reaves' guilt. He said her remarks would be more appropriate during the sentencing phase of the trial, if Reaves is convicted.

Judge Crumbley agreed with Floyd, and limited the scope of Loring's time on the stand to her characterization of Rodney Reaves as a "follower."

At the conclusion of the court proceedings, Bowman commented on the judge's decision to limit or exclude the testimony of his witnesses. He said those decisions hinder his ability to represent his client effectively.

"I think the witnesses were quite appropriate," Bowman said. "They went into the hidden agenda of Charlott Reaves, and clearly showed who was the person who murdered this little girl. The fact that I can't get [the evidence] in, is extremely damaging to his defense."

Bowman is expected to present the defense's last witness today, before closing arguments are heard from both sides.