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Sentencing phase continues in Reaves trial

By Jason A. Smith

jsmith@henryherald.com

A Stockbridge man convicted in the death of his 11-year-old daughter had sharp words Thursday for the criminal justice system in Henry County.

Rodney Michael Reaves lashed out at prosecutors in Superior Court, saying his civil rights were violated due to a "rush" in the proceedings of his death penalty trial. Reaves will return to court today as the sentencing phase of the trial continues.

He told Judge Wade Crumbley he has "sat for five years" in jail, but did not have enough time to work with his attorneys to strengthen his case.

Reaves was convicted Wednesday of felony murder, two counts of cruelty to children and aggravated battery in the death of his daughter, Joella Reaves.

His wife, Charlott, will stand trial in April in her stepdaughter's death.

Rodney Reaves was visibly angry as he spoke, outside the presence of the jury. He took issue with the admission and exclusion from the jury of certain pieces of evidence in the case.

"I'm fighting for my life, but I can't have several witnesses to come and talk about the potential possibility that shows it could be somebody other than myself who did this crime," Reaves said. "Now the state wants to kill me."

His remarks followed several hours of testimony from witnesses, during the sentencing hearing. Prior to those witnesses taking the stand, Henry County District Attorney Tommy Floyd reminded the jury about the serious nature of the proceedings, and the crime for which Reaves was found guilty.

"Don't forget what we're here about," Floyd said. "Don't forget about Joella."

The state's sole witness was Joella's aunt, Janis Carter, who read portions of a victim-impact statement to the jury. Carter, the sister of the child's birth mother, raised Joella after her mother's death and described the girl as having a beautiful spirit.

"Her dream was to be a superstar," said Carter. "She was a songbird ... and loved to dance."

She said Joella was an "intelligent" girl, who was always willing to help others.

In response, Rodney Reaves' attorney, Public Defender Gary Bowman, presented a total of 17 witnesses in his client's defense. They included former co-workers of Charlott Reaves, who described her as a demanding woman who did not have a positive relationship with Joella.

Another defense witness was Dr. Marti Loring, a clinical social worker who interviewed Rodney Reaves approximately 45 times in the years following his arrest. Loring said the defendant appeared to suffer from "emotional abuse" at the hands of Charlott Reaves, but that he refused to say anything negative about his wife.

"He was anxious about losing his wife, and what he would do about Joella's care-taking," said Loring.

According to the counselor, Rodney Reaves took a "careful approach" in his interaction with Joella, because he suspected she may have been molested prior to his taking custody of her in 2002.

Family members of the defendant also addressed the court during the hearing, each pleading with the jury to spare Reaves' life. His brother, Donald Campbell, said Reaves wanted to make his wife happy, but that Charlott Reaves "took advantage" of her husband.

"He just got caught up in a situation where he didn't know what was going on in his own house," said Campbell.

The defense team's final witness was Rodney Reaves' mother, Carrie James of Jonesboro. She said her son was "close" with Joella, and would never have hurt the child.

"He's not that kind of person," James said. "I know my child. He don't belong in prison."