Man convicted of returning guilty verdicts

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Marshall County jury deliberated less that an hour last week before returning guilty verdicts for a Chapel Hill man on molestation and related charges.

Tommy Lamont Wray, 41, of Broadview Street, has been in jail since he was arrested on Oct. 28. Thursday, Wray was found guilty of aggravated burglary, sexual battery, and attempted sexual battery.

The prosecution's witnesses, including the 13-year-old victim of the sexual battery, painted a picture of a child who had been profoundly disturbed and upset by a man who forced himself into her home, touched her inappropriately, and exposed himself to her on Oct. 22.

Wray was identified in court as the culprit when the victim pointed to him.

"There's no doubt about it?" Assistant District Attorney Eddie Barnard asked. "It's him?"

The girl replied, "Yes, sir."

Under defense questioning, the girl said she was cooking spaghetti when Wray entered the house. She told him he had to leave, but he replied, "It's alright" and made inappropriate remarks about her. She testified that he touched her rear, but she proceeded to eat spaghetti and read a book.

During defense questioning from attorney Christopher Westmoreland, the victim's estimate of how long Wray was in the house ranged from 20-45 minutes.

One crucial witness could not be found. She was the third person who was in a vehicle with Wray and his long-time friend, David Crutcher, when it stopped at the victim's house

Detective Santiago Mcklean had searched for Pamela Cherry at her former residence to serve her with a subpoena, but she was gone, and family members refused to give him her new address, merely saying that she was "in Alabama," the detective testified.

Contrary to the advice of his attorney, Wray took the stand in his own defense, saying, "I know the truth and I'm going to testify to the truth. Only God, me and (the victim) know the truth."

Where there might have been doubt in the jury's minds, now there was certainty, as Wray admitted to both touching the girl and exposing himself to her, while Crutcher and Cherry were outside in the truck.

Wray testified that Crutcher encouraged him to go in the house and talk to the girl so that he and Cherry could be alone in the truck.

Wray and Crutcher graduated from Forrest High School.

Crutcher and Cherry were known to the victim's mother because she had allowed them to spend a night at her house because they "had nowhere else to go."

The victim's mother was away the night of Wednesday, Oct. 22, when Crutcher, Cherry and Wray were riding around town and pulled into her driveway. She had arranged for all three children to spend the night elsewhere, since gas was $4 a gallon at that time and she was going to stay with a friend in Columbia and go job-hunting the next morning.

Instead of staying with her friend from church, the victim got a ride home. When they saw the car in the drive, Karen Freeman asked if it would be all right and was told, "Yes, they're my mom's friends."

Wray said that everything he did in the house was done with the victim's permission, and that furthermore, she failed to lock him out when she had the opportunity as he left the house twice to check on Crutcher and Cherry.

"Not scared of me at all," was how Wray described the 13-year-old's demeanor.

This is in direct contrast to family friend Quentin Crews, the first person the girl called after Wray left the house. He went and picked her up and she was "very upset and crying." Crews called the mother and the police, and when she got back from Columbia, the mother and daughter went to the Lewisburg Police Department.

"I saw a very frightened little girl; a terrified little girl," testified LPD Officer Jackie Sands.

The case was turned over to Detective Mcklean, who found Crutcher and Cherry the next day from the mother's description. The pair told the detective that Wray was the person who spent time in the house. Mcklean put together a photo lineup and said the victim picked out Wray "right away" and "fast," the detective said.

Since the defendant admitted to what he was accused of, Westmoreland resorted to casting doubt on the victim's testimony in his closing argument.

"She has attempted to play innocent," he said. "She made no attempt to leave though she said she was more scared than she's ever been in her life."

"Was it wrong?" Westmoreland asked rhetorically.

"Yes," he answered himself.

"Was it criminal?"

"No," the defense concluded.

The state had waived making a closing argument, but had to respond to the defense's statements.

"He tried to talk you out of finding him guilty. He had something on his mind he wanted to do, and he wants you to believe that a 13-year-old let him in. He's tried to fool you," said Barnard of the defendant. "What would be the girl's motive to go through all this? I can't come up with one. She has no motive to lie," he added.

Judge Crigler explained to the jury that their verdict had to be unanimous, and reminded them, "The law presumes that all witnesses are truthful." It took the group of six men, and six women nearly 50 minutes to decided that Wray was guilty as charged on all three counts.

He is scheduled for sentencing on June 3.

Senior Staff Writer Clint Confehr contributed to this report.