Guilty verdict issued in two hours

Monday, March 21, 2011

It took the jury all of two hours to find a Lewisburg man guilty as charged on all counts in his indictment.

The panel of seven women and five men returned their verdict about 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, declaring Dallas Jay Stewart, 28, guilty of eight counts of rape of a child, 13 counts of aggravated sexual battery, and one count of exhibition of pornographic materials to a minor.

"He hung himself with the confession," juror Emily Bell said after the trial, referring to Stewart's tape-recorded statement that was played for jurors Monday. "We were glad he was that stupid."

Tuesday afternoon, when testimony ended, Assistant District Attorney Bud Bottoms gave the prosecution's closing argument, appealing to the jury to "help protect the children."

"These are all things nine and 11-year-old girls shouldn't have to go through," Bottoms concluded, asking the jury to find Stewart guilty.

Defense attorney John S. Colley III then took the unusual step of waiving his right to make a closing argument.

"I almost never do that," Colley explained later. "It was a strategic decision."

Prosecutors are allowed to have the last word, and Colley said he knew ADA Eddie Barnard was ready to go through a chart with the jury, reviewing each count of the indictment, and what evidence they had heard to support it.

"It was not going to be anything that we needed," Colley said.

The attorney explained that he arrived at the Lewisburg Police Department after the defendant had been there for over six hours, taken a lie-detector test, and made written and recorded statements.

"If I had been there earlier, we would be having a different trial," Colley said, implying his client would not have made the self-incriminating statements that jurors used for the verdict.

Reflecting a juror's perspective, Bell said "A lot of us cried" when the older victim testified.

The jury was embarrassed to be discussing intimate details of sexual encounters with a group of strangers, Bell said. The men were more inclined to be harder on Stewart than the women.

"I was very impressed with the police department," Bell said. Several jurors made a point of coming back to the courtroom to congratulate Detectives Scott Braden and James Johnson for their hard work on the case.

Some said they intend to be in court for Stewart's sentencing hearing on May 18.

Rape of a child is a Class A Felony, rating a sentence of at least 15 years.