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Reaves convicted, faces sentencing

By Jason A. Smith

jsmith@henryherald.com

The sentencing phase of a murder trial will begin today for a Stockbridge man convicted of killing his daughter.

Rodney Michael Reaves, 42, was found guilty Wednesday of felony murder, aggravated battery and two counts of cruelty to children. As a result, he could face the death penalty.

The jury in the case determined that Reaves was responsible for the death of his 11-year-old daughter, Joella Reaves, whose body was found at home in December of 2003.

The jury foreman in the case announced the panel's unanimous decisions shortly before 2 p.m., Wednesday at the conclusion of approximately 10 hours of deliberations.

The defendant was found not guilty of malice murder. Also, one of the cruelty counts for which he was found guilty, was included as an underlying charge for a second felony murder charge for which Reaves was not convicted.

The jury in the case began their deliberations Monday, and discussed the evidence presented at trial for more than five hours. A scheduling conflict arose because a juror's husband was scheduled to have surgery Tuesday, raising the question of whether to replace her with an alternate juror and restart deliberations. However, the jury had already reached agreement on three verdicts in the case: malice murder, the stand-alone charges of cruelty to children, and aggravated battery.

Judge Wade Crumbley kept the original juror and suspended deliberations until Wednesday, to allow the jury to address the felony murder charges against Reaves.

Those charges proved to be a source of apparent confusion for the jury, as the judge was asked to clarify elements of the charges before the jury could come to a decision. One of the ways in which Crumbley complied with the request was by emphasizing the differences between two of the counts Reaves faced.

"The facts alleged in support of cruelty to children in the first degree ... are not the same facts as those set out in count four, where there is an additional charge of cruelty to children," said Crumbley. "In order to find the defendant guilty of a lesser, included offense under count two, you would have to find, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the state proved the underlying felony."

Attorneys for both sides, as well as supporters of Reaves and witnesses for the prosecution, sat in the courtroom for four hours Wednesday, as they waited to learn the defendant's fate.

One constant presence in the room was the defendant's mother, Carrie James, who testified on her son's behalf last week. James sat with her hands folded in front of her during deliberations, much like she had done for the majority of the trial.

When the verdicts were announced, James' facial expression changed little as she watched her son place his head in his hand. Rodney Reaves then sat motionless as the jurors each confirmed their votes when polled by the judge, at the defense team's request.

After the verdicts were read and Crumbley adjourned the proceedings, Reaves left the courtroom in tears, while accompanied by his attorneys, Public Defender Gary Bowman and Defense Lawyer Ricky Morris. Neither commented on the outcome of the trial.

Henry County District Attorney Tommy Floyd, who prosecuted the case, also declined to comment.

The sentencing phase is scheduled to begin today at 9 a.m.