Jury finds Fort Valley man guilty on child rape charges
WOODSTOCK — After only seven minutes of deliberation, a jury on Monday found a Fort Valley man guilty of two counts of rape and one count of aggravated sexual battery against a 12-year-old girl, verdicts that were accompanied by tentative sentences of two life sentences, one for each rape charge, and 10 years for the aggravated sexual battery charge.
James Allen Lutz, 34, committed the crimes on three separate occasions in May 2016, and confessed to the crimes to Investigator Kolter A. Stroop with the Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office during an interview on June 1, 2016. That taped confession, which Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Louis Campola submitted as evidence, was played for the jury during Monday’s trial. The interview was the only non-testimonial evidence in the case.
In the tape, Lutz tells Stroop that he drank multiple beers before each incident, and that the 12-year-old girl came on to him despite him telling her to stop and that it was “disgusting.” On May 5, 2016, Lutz groped the girl’s breasts, and on May 19 and 28, 2016, there was brief sexual intercourse that Lutz stopped both times. In the interview, Lutz also expressed disdain toward those who sexually abuse children, saying that he would never do something like that.
“Anybody who does that don’t deserve to live,” Lutz says on the audio recording.
David Downes, Lutz’ attorney in this case, noted that his client said at the beginning of the interview that he wanted to tell his side of the story, and that he continuously denied that he ever wanted any kind of sexual contact with the girl.
The victim in the case testified that incidents like the ones Lutz confessed to happened to her so many times with him that she cannot remember all of the dates, and that she “tried to forget” the sexual abuse. She also testified that she never initiated any sexual contact with Lutz, and that she was afraid to tell anyone because Lutz threatened to kill himself if she ever did.
During closing arguments, Campola argued that Lutz never told anyone about the incidents either because he “enjoyed it.” Campola also advised the jury to not get sidetracked by who initiated the sexual contact because the sex itself was the crime; according to state law, a child under the age of 13 cannot consent to any sex act and so, by definition, the act would be considered rape.
“It is moral and just to convict the defendant,” Campola told the jury.
Downes argued during closing arguments that his client stopped any act the moment he realized what was going on, and reiterated that the girl initiated each incident. He also questioned why she continued to put herself in situations where she’d be around Lutz while he was intoxicated even though, according to her testimony, he had been regularly sexually assaulting her.
“It defies common sense,” Downes said to the jury during his closing argument, urging them to use their own common sense when deciding the case. “You don’t check your common sense when you walk through the courthouse door.”
The jury returned shortly after closing arguments with the guilty verdicts, and Lutz was visibly distressed, repeatedly shaking his head after the verdicts had been read to the court. He frequently turned in his seat and looked at the victim seated at the back of the courtroom with a sorrowful gaze.
The attorneys then argued sentencing even though the rape charges call for a mandatory life sentence when the victim is under 13 and the offender is older than 18. Downes argued that the prosecution never proved Lutz’ age during the trial, and that the jury was not required to find that fact when determining guilt. Circuit Judge Clark Ritchie decided that because of that, the jury should be presented with the sentencing range for a standard rape charge, which ranges from five years to life imprisonment.
For the aggravated sexual battery charge, the jury could have recommended a sentence from one to 20 years imprisonment and a fine of up to $100,000. Campola asked for the maximum sentence on all three charges.
Downes emphasized that the punishment should fit the crime in this case.
“You need to keep in perspective the participation of both parties,” Downes said.
The jury, after four minutes of deliberation, recommended two life sentences, one for each rape charge, and 10 years for the aggravated sexual battery charge. Lutz again shook his head at the jury’s verdict.
Ritchie ordered a pre-sentence investigation and a psycho-sexual evaluation. A sentencing hearing in this case has been set for Jan. 29 in Shenandoah County Circuit Court where the judge can either uphold the jury’s sentencing or reduce it.