The testimony of a dead woman was not enough to sway a judge in favor of a rape defendant.
Lorenzo Q. Birdette of Gillsville was convicted of rape and aggravated child molestation and sentenced to the mandatory minimum of 25 years in prison Tuesday after a two-day bench trial in front of Hall County Superior Court Judge Kathlene Gosselin.
Gosselin found Birdette, 27, guilty but mentally retarded in the Jan. 22, 2007, rape of a 15 year-old girl. Birdette had a sporadic relationship with the victim’s mother, according to Assistant District Attorney Juliet Aldridge.
The victim’s mother testified in a 2007 preliminary hearing held in magistrate court that she felt there was “flirting” going on between her daughter and Birdette, Aldridge said.
The case was initially bound over by a magistrate court judge as statutory rape but a grand jury later indicted Birdette on
charges of rape and aggravated child molestation.
The victim’s mother died in March. Birdette’s public defender got the judge’s approval to play an audio recording of her earlier testimony.
It didn’t help Birdette, who chose not to testify in his defense but denied any sexual conduct in statements to police. A state crime lab scientist testified that a match was made between Birdette’s DNA and a sample taken from the victim in a rape exam.
The victim, now 18, also testified in court this week, saying she did not consent to having sex with Birdette.
The guilty but mentally retarded verdict means Birdette will still be committed to the state prison system but will undergo a special assessment by the Department of Corrections to determine what services he may need while in prison, Aldridge said.
In 2007, Birdette was released on a $20,000 bond on the statutory rape charge.
He was arrested five times this year on charges of assault, burglary and criminal trespass, including a July 24 incident in which he allegedly barged into an Atlanta Street home, confronted an 8-year-old boy and pulled a knife on the boy’s mother.