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Reaves not testifying in murder trial

By Jason A. Smith

jsmith@henryherald.com

A Stockbridge man on trial for allegedly killing his daughter will not take the stand in his own defense.

Attorneys for Rodney Michael Reaves, 42, announced Friday the defendant did not wish to testify regarding the death of 11-year-old Joella Reaves. The defense then rested its case, setting the stage for closing arguments to be heard Monday.

Rodney Reaves faces three counts of murder, as well as one count each of aggravated battery and cruelty to children. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Reaves' wife Charlott is also charged in Joella's death, and is scheduled to stand trial in April.

Friday's court testimony centered on expert witnesses for the state as well as the defense, each of whom gave differing opinions as to what caused Joella's death in 2003.

Dr. Jonathan Arden, a forensic pathologist who reviewed the girl's autopsy for the defense, said photographs of Joella's brain revealed evidence of injury to her brain stem shortly before she died.

The evidence, Arden said, was "indicative of significant brain injury, consistent with having occurred two to four hours before death."

Portions of the doctor's testimony differed significantly from that of an earlier witness, Medical Examiner Dr. Gerald Gowitt, who performed Joella Reaves' autopsy. Gowitt said in court Tuesday that the "variable" nature of children's sizes creates difficulty in determining a time of death.

Arden claimed Gowitt's assertion is inaccurate.

"I'm not aware of anyone who has said an estimated time of death for children is invalid," Arden said. "I'm not aware it can't be done."

Arden added the temperature at which Joella's body was found indicates she died between 12 a.m., and 4 a.m., on Dec. 1, 2003. The defense has maintained Rodney Reaves was not in Georgia at that time, and produced cell phone records earlier in the trial revealing the defendant was in North Carolina.

Henry County District Attorney Tommy Floyd presented a rebuttal witness, Dr. Bruce Wainer, to dispute claims made by Arden on the stand. Wainer, a pathologist who also examined Gowitt's findings, said he saw "no special abnormality" in the condition of Joella's brain.

"My conclusion is that there was evidence of minor recent injuries to her brain, but that none of the injuries would be potentially lethal," Wainer said.

Closing arguments in the trial are scheduled to begin Monday at 9 a.m., in Henry County Superior Court.