When police found 11-year-old Joella Reaves’ beaten and mutilated body, they only saw a portion of the story.
The Henry County couple, who claimed they had trouble controlling their unruly daughter, had bound and beaten the girl to death with several objects including a baseball bat and umbrella.
Still, the child’s ex-military dad appealed to the state’s highest court to overturn his conviction and life sentence. But on Monday, the Supreme Court of Georgia unanimously disagreed.
The following details on the case were found in the Supreme Court's documented opinion:
On the morning of Dec. 1, police were called to the couple’s Stockbridge home by Mr. Reaves, who said he had found his daughter dead in bed. His wife and son had already left.
“She had a black eye, multiple scratches on her back, bruises on her forehead, wrists and legs, and a large burn or scrape on her buttocks,” according to the opinion.
Mr. Reaves, who was distraught and crying, told police that in the days leading up to her death, his troubled daughter had been acting out and he and his wife had put her in the garage where she was ordered to “write her lines.
Her lines: “I am a thief, a liar, and good for nothing, and I stink.”
He said at one point while trying to restrain her, she had wiggled up over his arms and fallen, hitting her head on the concrete floor. He admitted that on occasion, he and his wife had “hog-tied” his daughter with speaker wire.
The night before Joella’s death, Mr. Reaves said she calmed down and they released her from the garage, allowing her to go to bed.
The following morning Mr. Reaves, who was in the United States Navy, left for Norfolk, VA but said he turned around and came back to find Joella dead.
An autopsy revealed that Joella died from a combination of the injuries her body. But it was unclear if the injuries were done the same day.
“Joella’s buttocks were so severely beaten that fat cells liquefied, eventually causing blockage in her kidneys and kidney failure,” according to the report.
“She also suffered from torn triceps and shoulder muscles, injuries which required great amounts of force and would have caused significant pain; abrasions on her head; pattern injuries on her face; two black eyes; bruised lips and gums; a tear on one ear; puncture wounds on her face; and injuries covering her legs."
Her wrists were swollen in a manner consistent with having been tied with wire. And police found a baseball bat and broken umbrella in the home that matched the child’s pattern injuries.
The couple was arrested and the indictment charged that between Nov. 21 and Dec. 1, 2003, they had beaten her to death by striking her “with object(s) unknown…”
In February 2009, Mr. Reaves was sentenced to life in prison plus 20 years for felony murder and cruelty to a child in the first degree.
He then appealed to the state Supreme Court, arguing that the trial court erred by excluding the testimony of certain witnesses and by failing to properly instruct the jury that instead of murder, it could find him guilty of the less serious charge of involuntary manslaughter.
He also argued that his trial attorney was incompetent and ineffective, in violation of his constitutional right to effective representation.
However, the high court rejected each of his arguments, finding that any error by the trial court was harmless.
The opinion states that even assuming it was error to exclude the statement of one of Mrs Charlott Reaves’ close friends, who said she heard Charlott call Joella a “bitch,” “exclusion of this evidence was harmless in light of other evidence properly admitted demonstrating the difficult and contentious relationship between Charlott and Joella.”
The high court also concluded that the “evidence adduced at trial was sufficient to authorize a rational trier of fact to find appellant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the crimes for which he was convicted.”
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