James Bradley Bearden, 50, of Center Street in Tunnel Hill, was sentenced Friday by Superior Court Judge Cindy Morris to serve two consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole plus an additional 29 years on two counts of aggravated sodomy and incest, plus 12 months concurrent on four counts of misdemeanor sexual battery.
A jury was selected on Monday and the trial took place on Wednesday and Thursday. The Whitfield County jury returned the guilty verdict on those charges Thursday afternoon after more than three hours of deliberation.
The crimes occurred in the summer and fall of 2016 when the victim was 16 years of age. Bearden had a significant criminal history including a prior sexual assault with intent to rape from Alabama, DA Bert Poston said.
That victim and the detective who investigated that case in 1995 traveled to Dalton to testify. Senior Assistant District Attorney Mark Higgins, who represented the state, also called the victim and other witnesses including Detective Ronny Morris of the Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office who led the investigation.
Other witnesses included Lisa Gilliland, a Nurse Practitioner and SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner), who examined the victim and Forensic Biologists Kristen Pfisterer and Terri Timmons from the GBI Crime Lab who found DNA evidence from samples taken during that examination.
According to Higgins, “One of the most powerful moments I have experienced in my 21+ years as a prosecutor occurred within the first few minutes of the trial when I asked the victim the name of the person involved. After what seemed like an eternity, and unsuccessfully trying to hold back tears, she was able to bring herself to say the defendant’s name. Trying to hold back tears myself, I was reminded at that time, the overwhelming burden sexual assault victims carry, particularly those assaulted by family members. The jury’s verdict reflected what was clear from that moment on throughout the trial, that the victim in the case ,despite the trauma she had been through, was credible and consistent.”
Bearden had multiple prior felony convictions including two from Georgia and several from other States. To be admissible for sentencing purposes in Georgia, the conduct charged in the other state would have to be a felony if charged here. Some of the prior convictions could not be determined to meet that standard, but Judge Cindy Morris admitted four, including the two Georgia convictions and the prior sexual assault from Alabama, which triggered Georgia’s recidivist sentencing statute requiring that the time served be without the possibility of parole. Three or more prior felony convictions trigger that requirement.
DA Poston said, "The District Attorney’s Office would like to thank Detective Morris and the Sheriff’s Office for their investigative work and the other agencies that contributed to this successful prosecution including The GreenHouse, our local child advocacy center which provided services to and supported the victim even though they were ultimately not called on to testify during the trial. These cases are difficult to investigate and prosecute, especially when we are committed to not further traumatizing the victim who has already been through enough. We applaud her courage in facing her abuser and testifying against him."