Willie Clarence Lee Jr. goes over his statement to police with Clayton County Executive Assistant District Attorney Kathryn Powers. (Staff Photo: Kathy Jefcoats)
JONESBORO — Clayton County jurors convicted a former MARTA police officer Thursday morning on eight counts involving rape of a child.
Sentencing for Willie Clarence Lee Jr., 47, of Ellenwood was delayed at the request of his attorney. Clayton County Executive Assistant District Attorney Kathryn Powers said he will be sentenced July 16. He could get 25 years to life for rape, not including the possible punishment for the other charges.
Powers said the Clayton County District Attorney’s Office is pleased with the verdict.
“DA Tracy Graham Lawson takes crimes against children very seriously, whether someone is in law enforcement or not,” she said. “I think because he was in law enforcement, his crimes are more egregious. He deleted items from his phone and hid behind his badge.”
Powers said the victim in the case, now 16, is relieved.
“She and her family are relieved that their ordeal is over,” she said.
Jurors heard Lee admit to having sexual contact with a child just hours after he denied it from the witness stand Wednesday morning.
But Lee told the lead detective that the young girl tried to seduce him and he didn’t reciprocate. Lee was convicted of multiple counts of child molestation, statutory and forcible rape of the girl from 9 to 14.
The admission came after Clayton County police Detective Sgt. Joanne Southerland bluffed Lee during an April 2012 interview.
“I told him there was DNA on the body of the victim,” she testified Wednesday morning. Southerland was called by Powers as a rebuttal state witness. “I didn’t tell him where because I didn’t know exactly what he was being accused of yet.”
Confronted with the phony evidence that a pubic hair could connect him to a crime, Lee told Southerland there was an explanation for why his hair might be on the girl.
“‘I picked her up (in his car) and she said, ‘I wanna (have sex)’,’” Lee is heard telling Southerland on a videotaped interview. “‘I said, ‘(Expletive deleted), we don’t do that. She said, ‘I just wanna do something.””
Lee said the girl’s hand went up his shorts, touched his skin and came close to his genitals. He denied having any other contact with the girl.
Lee also testified under oath several times Tuesday and Wednesday that he “never, ever” had sexual contact with the girl. From the stand, Lee told jurors that the incident involving the girl touching him was innocent. He said he’d picked her up from her grandmother’s house and drove two blocks to Kroger to get food. In the parking lot, Lee said the girl spotted a friend in another car.
Lee said she leaned over the console from the front passenger seat and put her hand on his upper outside thigh in order to balance herself while she hollered at the friend.
“I saw an (Atlanta Police Department) patrol car and told her she needed to stop and sit back,” he said under direct-examination by his attorney, R. Gary Spencer.
Under cross-examination by Powers, Lee said he was merely concerned about being cited for a seat belt violation.
“You didn’t believe the touch was sexual in nature?” said Powers. “Then why were you worried about APD?”
“Because she was out of her seat belt,” he said.
Powers asked him what the girl said during the incident.
“I can’t recall,” he said. “I waved her hand away.”
Powers wanted to know who he told about the touching and proposition from the girl.
“Did you tell her grandma when you took her home? Did you tell her aunts? No? You just ignored it and drove home, you weren’t bothered by it?” she said.
Lee said he was bothered by it but not enough to take action or to stop seeing the girl.
“You continued to talk to her? Text her? Call her?” said Powers.
“Yes,” he said. “We never talked about it again.”
Lee admitted texting a photo of his genitals and his MARTA ID card but said he thought he was sending it to the girl’s aunt, with whom he’d had a previous relationship.
Lee answered “I don’t know,” “I don’t recall” and “I don’t remember” to several of Powers’ specific questions. In fact, he confirmed that he signed a statement admitting he’d sent a photo of his genitals to a minor but within seconds, told Powers, “I can’t remember that.”
However, he did admit that he deleted photos and texts from his cell phone after being tipped off that DeKalb County police were going to question him.
Lee also testified that he felt Southerland was trying to put words in his mouth and was combative during the three to four hour interview. Although Lee is a POST-certified police officer, working 12 years for MARTA before he was fired at the time of his arrest, he seemed unfamiliar with law enforcement tactics and techniques.
“I didn’t think I could leave the interview,” he said.
Powers seemed surprised.
“”You didn’t think you could leave the interview?” she said. “Haven’t you been trained to know when a person can walk away from the police? Yet you stayed to explain yourself?”
After Lee completed his testimony, Spencer called a string of Lee’s former MARTA co-workers to testify about his honesty, integrity and good reputation. Lee sat at the defense table, with his head bowed as each witness took the stand, testified and left.