The disturbing chapter of the Spring 2017 sexual assault on GC’s campus closed in August when defendant Jarvis Lawrence pleaded guilty and received a life sentence.
Assistant District Attorney Skye Gess said cooperation between law enforcement and the plethora of evidence collected gave the prosecution confidence it could prove Lawrence guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
“We had great video footage,” Gess said. “So we were able to see when our victim left the bar and bits and pieces of when she got onto the college campus. We watched him follow and pull her. We knew that we could prove this was not consensual conduct because you could see him pulling her.”
On Feb. 25, 2017, between 2-3 a.m., a former GC student* was sexually assaulted behind Bell Hall. The assailant, Lawrence, remained at large for several days before being arrested on March 2.
Lawrence was charged with rape, aggravated sodomy, aggravated assault, kidnapping, possession of a firearm during commission of a felony and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
GC’s Public Safety Department conducted the investigation with help from the Milledgeville Police Department, the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Marshals.
The Milledgeville Police Department created photographic displays to help the victim identify her perpetrator.
“The investigation of the crime and subsequent prosecution of the case demonstrates the strong relationships that exists with the criminal justice agencies in Baldwin County,” said Don Challis, GC’s chief of public safety.
The coordinated effort between the various departments produced supporting evidence such as video footage from bars and stores downtown and DNA evidence linking Lawrence to the crime.
Lawrence originally pleaded not guilty on the basis of consent. A jury was selected and the trial took place in the Baldwin County Courthouse, just steps away from where the crime took place.
Lawrence’s lawyer, Frank Hicks, could not be reached for comment.
The prosecution decided to plead its case by telling the story chronologically.
“We decided the best way to tell the story was to actually do it from the perspective of our victim, from the very beginning of the evening through the crime,” Gess said.
This strategy worked in the prosecution’s favor. After opening statements were read and the prosecution called its first witness, Hicks negotiated a plea.
“If we can spare the victim getting on the stand at any point in time before she has to testify, we try to do that, because it is very traumatizing,” Gess said.
The plea negotiated included Lawrence receiving a life sentence with the first 30 years to be served in confinement and the rest on probation, plus a fine of over $2,000.
“Without both the commitment to justice by law enforcement and prosecutors and the efforts of the victim, a dangerous criminal would not have been held accountable for his crimes,” Challis said.
Gess attributes the case’s successful conclusion to the timeliness in which the crime was reported—which was within hours of when the crime was committed.
“It is so important to report someone as quickly as possible because if there is any evidence, we have law enforcement preserve it, so that if we end up moving forward with the charges, we have everything that we can do to possibly present the best case,” Gess said.
Another factor important to the case was the victim’s willingness to come forward and tell her story.
“We really appreciated her being able to sit down and tell that story, not only to law enforcement, but to see it all the way through,” Gess said. “We can’t do our job without having victims who are willing to help us.”
Gess said that what she and other lawyers at the district attorney’s office would like for GC students to take away from this case is to report sexual assault crimes.
“A lot of times people are afraid to report to law enforcement or even to come over and see us in the district attorney’s office, but we’re not a bunch of scary men in suits,” Gess said. “We want people to know we’re here to help. We don’t ever want someone else to be victimized again.”
*The Colonnade does not name survivors of sexual assault.