Man sentenced to prison for rape

Published 9:30 am Thursday, February 23, 2017

A Mocksville man accused of rape and taking indecent liberties with a child appeared in Davie Superior Court Feb. 14.

Devonte’ J. Williams, 24, moved from Pennsylvania to a residence off NC 801 South, where he lived with his fiancée and two children. After a party that started Aug. 15, 2015, Williams was accused of the sex acts with a victim who was 13 at the time.

According to Assistant DA Rob Taylor, Williams and others, including the victim’s brothers, were at a gathering that began at the home where the victim and some members of her family were living, then moved to Williams’ home, before concluding at the victim’s home.

Taylor said the victim sneaked some of the alcohol the adults were drinking and became sick. Sitting beside a bonfire at his house, Williams rubbed the victim’s back over her clothes, then under, and then began to rub her thighs. She was uncomfortable and pushed Williams’ hand away.

When the group walked back to the victim’s home, she said Williams followed her into the house, where he sexually assaulted her.

The victim testified she was not allowed to drink alcohol but sneaked a few bottles and drank them in the bathroom, because she thought her “friends would get a kick out of it,” when she sent them a video of her drinking. After she became sick and went back to her house, with the group, she went inside to the recliner where she usually slept and curled into a ball.

Williams entered the home and knelt beside her, reclining the chair. She said when he was rubbing her back over her shirt at the bonfire, she was not uncomfortable, but his other actions at the bonfire and those while she was in the recliner made her uncomfortable and scared. She said it was not her first time consuming alcohol. She went screaming to where her father was sleeping, which was in another area of the living room where the recliner was located.

The victim’s father testified when his daughter woke him, he confronted Williams, pushing him into a ditch and then waking his fiancée to tell her what happened. He called police, who took a statement, before instructing him to take his daughter to the hospital to be examined. He said he was not aware his daughter had consumed any alcohol until he heard her tell police.

On the second day of the trial, a hearing was held with no one but court personnel, the victim and her family, and Williams and his family, present. The video-taped hearing took about 45 minutes. Later in the trial, Judge Richard Gottlieb alluded to the content of the testimony, which was about prior sexual experiences the victim may have had. He ruled that information was not admissible during the trial.

There was also discussion with the jury out of the courtroom, about the possible admission of testimony about medications the victim was taking. Gottlieb ruled that was also inadmissible.

Deputy Joshua Shelton, with the Davie Sheriff’s Department, testified when he arrived at the home, the victim was “in tears and gasping for breath.” He said she initially didn’t say she had consumed any alcohol, but he could smell it on her so asked her about it.

“She said she did have a beer. I didn’t charge her with underage drinking. I didn’t want to put any more burden on her. It was hard to tell how impaired she was because she was crying and gasping. She didn’t appear intoxicated but I could tell she’d been drinking,” he testified.

Shelton said he attempted to speak with Williams at his home but he was gone.

Det. Sgt. Jim Goodin went to the hospital to interview the victim. She began to tell him what happened and admitted to drinking but he said after telling him Williams was rubbing her back at the bonfire, she “shut down. She was very tearful, very emotional so I stopped my questioning,” Goodin said.

He told Williams’ attorney, Lynne Hicks, he did not interview Williams nor his fiancée.

The nurse who performed the examination of the victim testified she found a small abrasion that likely had occurred within 72 hours of the examination.

Former detective Kim Palmer testified she interviewed Williams, whose story matched the victim’s up to the point of the alleged sexual contact. He said she was curled into a ball on the recliner and that he rubbed her back for a few minutes, asked her if she was ok, and when she didn’t answer, he left and went to join the others on the front porch, which was in sight distance from the recliner.

When confronted by the victim’s father, Williams said he thought he was joking at first, then realized he was serious. Someone in the group told him to leave and when he tried to is when he was pushed into the ditch.

Dragonfly House forensic investigator Kim Craver testified during her interview with the victim, the victim “got kind of quiet and covered her mouth” when she was talking about Williams. She also cried, Craver said.

On the morning of day three of the trial, Gottlieb asked Hicks if she anticipated questions related to Williams having been in custody for almost a year and a half on the charges, due to his financial inability to make bond.

“It’s a question of trial strategy…if you want to go into those areas you may but you need to consider whether you want to go down that road,” Gottlieb said. “I’ve never understood why defendants would want to call attention to the fact they’ve been in pre-trial confinement.”

Williams wore street clothes, gray slacks and a button-down shirt instead of prison garb to court each day, so the jury was unaware he was in custody.

Gottlieb noted he realized Hicks hoped to play on the sympathy of the jury regarding Williams’ confinement, and said he was sure she knew “the metes and bounds of a closing argument,” in case that is where she decided to make her play for sympathy.

Williams testified he and the victim’s brother are close and that they got together often. The night started with some beer and music and, later on, food and a bonfire. He saw the victim vomit at the outer edge of the bonfire, and when others realized what was going on, it was decided she needed to be taken back home, so the group walked together back to her house. About himself, he said he “was drunk but not on the outside of reasonable mind,” but that he believed the victim to be “very intoxicated” although he didn’t see her drink anything.

He said back at the house, he sat beside her about two minutes, “rubbing her back outside her shirt to comfort her.”

He said when he asked if she needed anything and she didn’t answer, he left, returning to the others, including members of her family, on the porch. The porch, he testified, was two to three steps from the front door. There was also no barrier between the recliner and the victim’s sleeping father, he said.

After being confronted by the victim’s father, he returned to his home and went to sleep, he said. Sometime between the 15th and 16th, he found out his grandmother died, and he left for Pennsylvania for the funeral, returning days later.

In her closing argument, which did not include any mention of Williams’ confinement, Hicks told the eight woman, four man jury, “Sex cases are never easy cases. There are always at least two points of view in every case and never as true as in a case like this. Devonte’ has always contended he was innocent…He had chances to disappear, but he’s been here and he returned here because of his innocence.”

She told the jury to consider not only the testimony, but also the victim’s appearance and Williams’ appearance.

Taylor, in his closing, told the jury, “Her (the victim’s) testimony moved you, it disturbed you greatly, and it’s because it’s credible. It’s powerful because it makes sense and it’s credible…Do teens lie? Oh heck yeah, about homework, bedtime, what they ate or didn’t eat, if they tried a beer, but would a teen make up a situation like this and continue to tell the same story over and over for almost 18 months? Allow themselves to be interviewed by law enforcement and tell the story time and time again? Do they continue to tell the same story until the age of 15 and come into the scariest situation of their lives, court, and tell that same story? (The victim) is not an actress. She doesn’t possess the skills to be able to turn on and off her tears and emotions…You watched her, you felt her and you believe her,” Taylor said at the end of his half-hour argument.

The jury deliberated just over two hours before returning, on one count of statutory rape/sex offense with a child 13, 14, or 15 with the defendant at least six years older than the victim, a verdict of not guilty.

On a second identical charge, they returned a guilty verdict, and on one count of taking indecent liberties with a child, they returned a verdict of guilty. Williams’ mother was crying, as was the victim.

On sentencing, Taylor said, “The state would agree he should get every day he can possibly get. This was a terrible event, and obviously, it has had a great impact on the family.”

Hicks argued for the lower part of the sentencing range, saying Williams has a clean record, a good reputation in the community, and family support. She notified Gottlieb Williams would appeal.

The rape and indecent liberties charges were consolidated, and Williams was sentenced to 225 to 330 months in prison. He was given credit for the 525 days he spent in custody prior to the trial, was ordered to submit a DNA sample, and register as a sex offender for 30 years. He is not allowed to have contact with the victim and must pay court costs and attorney fees.

He will begin serving his sentence during the appeals process.