NEW BRAUNFELS — Years of sexually assaulting at least one young girl caught up to a New Braunfels man Friday afternoon when a jury convicted him of continuous sexual abuse of a young child.
Beginning about 9 a.m. Monday a Comal County jury will hear evidence in the penalty phase of the case against Joel D. James, 47, found guilty Friday of repeatedly molesting a girl, now 14. The incidents lasted from 2007 until 2010, or from when the girl was 8 or 9 until she was 12.
Prosecutors called a woman to the stand who claimed to be sexually assaulted by James 30 years ago. She said she was a neighbor of his when James was 17 and she was 7 or 8 years old.
She said she went to James’ family’s home to play with his younger sister when he invited her in and sexually molested her, the now-38-year-old woman and her mother testified.
The mother then provided graphic details of what her daughter said of the encounter, which included James forcing the girl to perform an oral sex act.
During the prosecution’s closing argument, Comal County Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Smith said James’ preference was for girls younger than 10.
“I think that’s his target market,” Smith said. “Because who’s going to believe a 7-year-old? Who’s going to believe an 8- or 9-year-old? Who’s going to believe a 12-year-old?”
Smith said no one wants to believe that monsters like James live in their community. She said victims such as the one in the current trial need to know that they will be trusted when they come forward, that they need to be believed.
“Tell (this girl) you believe her,” Smith told jurors. “Find him guilty and keep him away from the next 7-, 8-, or 9-year-old girl.”
James was represented by attorneys Wayne Huff and Alison Lanty. Huff said the state’s only evidence was the victim’s testimony, and if jurors didn’t believe the girl they had to find his client not guilty.
He said what James’ former neighbor alleged happened so long ago it should not be considered.
“That was 30 years ago,” Huff said. “Since then, Mr. James has gotten on with his life, had three kids and is doing what he’s supposed to do.”
Huff told jurors the girl’s story was false and kept changing, adding that prosecutors simply didn’t prove her allegations.
“I know some of you want to believe a child victim,” he said. “But that doesn’t change the fact that the state has to prove the offense beyond any... reasonable doubt.”
Smith’s co-counsel, Assistant District Attorney Laura Bates, said James’ acts against the victim were heinous. Bates said Huff’s claim that the girl fabricated her story was unbelievable.
She said that no child would lie and risk going through the embarrassment of telling her story to so many people in court, adding no one so young could be that calculating.
“That girl, at the ripe old age of 14, had to come up here and tell you about all those personal experiences,” Bates said. “She had to face a very capable defense attorney.”
James was the calculating one, Bates said, because he made sure no one was around when he routinely molested the girl.
The seven female and five male jurors believed her.
Judge Jack Robison ordered the jury to return Monday morning to begin the process of determining James’ punishment. James, who was being held at the Comal County Jail under $150,000 bond, faces a sentence of between 25 years and 99 years or life in prison.