Hicks found guilty, mandatory life sentence no parole

Willie Lee Hicks Jr., 21, of Baskerville was found guilty on Thursday evening on charges of aggravated sexual battery of a child under the age of 13, indecent liberties with a child under 15 and rape of a child under the age of 12. Entering a plea of not guilty to the charges against him, a jury of 12 found Hicks guilty on the sexual battery charge, the indecent liberties charge and one of five rape charges. Hicks was originally charged with eight counts of rape but during the trial, the charges were amended to five. The jury has recommended a sentence of one year each on the sexual battery and indecent liberties charge. The rape charge carries a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole. The victim was 12 years old at the time of the incidents while Hicks was 20.

The charges stem from incidents which took place in Baskerville between June 12 and June 23 of last year.

In his opening statement, Commonwealth’s Attorney Allen Nash told the jury that over the course of the trial, the Commonwealth would produce evidence to show that while staying at the residence of the victim during June of last year, he had molested his 12 year old cousin repeatedly. After the victim told a family member about the attacks, Hicks was removed from the residence and shortly after was questioned by law enforcement. Nash briefly discussed the importance of DNA evidence and told the jury that Hicks had been “unwilling to cooperate”. Later, Hicks changed his mind an consented to providing a DNA sample. Nash told the jury that a forensic expert would testify that the DNA evidence in the case directly led to Hicks.

Courtney Leigh Winston, one of two defense attorneys working on the case, told the jury that Hicks had cooperated with officers when they arrived and did not try to hide or run away. “There was not much confrontation,” she said.

Winston told the court that Hicks had not waived his Miranda rights or submitted to the DNA test until he had been told he was accused of rape. At that point, said Winston, Hicks “changed his mind.”

Winston told the jury that when the victim reported the crime to other family members, they were skeptical of her claims that over the ten day period, Hicks had repeatedly assaulted the victim.

Defense also reported that the victim had previously made similar allegations about other family members.

Investigator Chris Whittemore with the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office testified that he had been to the home of Linda Thomas was invited in and given permission to search the home without a search warrant. During his search, he removed clothes from what was identified as the victim’s bedroom and removed clothing to be used as possible evidence. He was assisted by Steve Jones and Mark Claiborne of the Sheriff’s Office.

On cross examination, defense attorney David’s P. Baugh asked Whittemore if the officers had worn gloves and raised the possibility of contamination of the DNA samples.

Using a closed circuit TV system, the victim was the final witness to testify on Monday. During the testimony the witness related that Hicks had been working and got home in the late hours of the day or the early hours of the morning. After arriving from work, he would come into her room, touch her and sexually assault her.

The victim also told the court that she had not been molested every night but every other night, totaling maybe five incidents.

On cross examination, Baugh produced the victim’s diary and pointed out that there was no mention of the rapes. “He raped you and there’s nothing in your diary?” He asked.

Following her testimony, court recessed for the day.

On Thursday, Wendy Cohn with the Department of Forensic Science testified that she had received evidence to examine in the case, including three pair of the victim’s underwear. The evidence, she said, contained blood and sperm cells. She was able, she told the court, to develop DNA profiles from the sample and that the sperm cells matched those of Hicks. The odds of someone else having an identical profile, she said, was approximately 1 in 7.2 billion.

Under cross examination, Cohn admitted that if clothes were stored together in a hamper, it was not impossible for the DNA to be transferred from one to the other. Asked if she had found seminal fluid on the undergarment, Cohn replied that she had not tested for seminal fluid.

“So you can’t say how it got there,” said Baugh.

“All I can say is I identified the sperm and developed a profile and I was able to make a comparison.”

Also on Thursday, based on the victim’s testimony the previous day, the Commonwealth Attorney’s office told the court they were amending the case, dropping three of the rape charges in the case.

Defense attorney Winston objected, pointing out that the Commonwealth had already altered the charges to reflect different days. She told the court that she felt the Commonwealth was changing the charges, giving defense no chance to prepare.

Defense requested a mistrial which was denied by Judge Leslie Osborn.

Testifying on his own behalf, Willie Hicks said that he had never had intercourse not touched the victim in a sexual manner.

On cross examination by Nash, Hicks said that he had been living in the home since around June 7 and that he had slept on the sofa and the victim slept in her own room. He explained that when he had been picked up he had not known the charge and that was why he did not cooperate with the request for a DNA sample.

Baugh asked Hicks if he had ever had sex with the victim. Hicks replied that he had not.

After the prosecution and defense made their closing arguments, the jury exited the courtroom to begin deliberations at approximately 4:40 p.m. At 6:09 p.m. the jury handed down a guilty verdict on the charge of sexual battery, indecent liberties and one of the five counts of rape. The recommended sentence for the sexual battery and indecent liberty charges was 12 months and one year respectively, The mandatory sentence on the rape charge is life without the possibility of parole.

Judge Osborn has ordered a pre-sentence report before handing down the final sentence on August 28.