• 70°

Man guilty of sexually abusing child

A Covington County jury Friday deliberated for 15 minutes before finding an Opp man guilty of sexually abusing a member of his family.

Jimmy Allen Steele, 31, of Opp, was convicted of sodomy in the first degree and sexual abuse in the first degree. His victim was 3 when the abuse began.

ChaLea Tisdale, an assistant district attorney, who prosecuted the case for the state, praised the strength of the child victim.

“This little girl has gone through so much over the last few years. Having to come in to court and testify to the horrible things that she had to endure with the perpetrator staring at her the whole time took courage beyond her years,” she said. “This jury’s verdict means everything.”

Tisdale said the defendant’s acts were initially brought to the attention of law enforcement and Department of Human Resources workers when the victim “acted out” at school. After a teacher spoke with the victim and discovered what the defendant had done to her, the teacher told the school’s guidance counselor who then reported it

to DHR, who picked up the investigation from there in conjunction with the Opp Police Department.

“Opp PD Investigator Mark Kyser, our local DHR workers, in particular Meagan Weantt, and the child forensic specialists from the Children’s Advocacy Center in Dothan handled this child with remarkable professionalism. Their testimony explaining the symptoms of a sexually abused child and how the victim in this case consistently exhibited those symptoms and named her father as the perpetrator was invaluable towards getting a conviction.”

The child reported acts of oral sodomy and touching.

District Attorney Greg Gambril said, “Child sexual abuse cases are becoming harder and harder to win these days.Too many juries are unwilling to convict on the testimony of the child unless it is supported by some sort of CSI type evidence. ChaLea did a remarkable job educating the jury on the fact that just because there was no physical evidence of abuse or DNA, it didn’t weaken the strength of the case.”

Steele is being held in the Covington County Jail awaiting sentencing, which has been set for Oct. 8, 2009, before Circuit Judge Charles “Lex” Short. Sodomy I is a Class A felony which carries a range of punishment of 10 years to life imprisonment. Sexual Abuse I is a Class C felony with a range of a year and a day to 10 years.