Joycelyn Ginyard cried out in court after hearing a Hall County juror announce the words "not guilty" Thursday in the rape trial of her brother.
Overcome with emotion, she sobbed in the arms of her sisters seated in the courtroom gallery as Stephen J. Williams was acquitted of felony charges that would have brought a sentence of life in prison.
"Thank you Lord, thank you Jesus," Ginyard said later outside the courtroom.
Prosecutors sought to prove that Williams, 41, went to the Oakwood house of a woman he knew in the predawn hours of Oct. 4, 2008, and angrily forced his way inside. Earlier that night the woman told Williams she had sex with another man, prompting him to drive from Lithonia to her home unannounced to confront her.
The accuser told authorities that Williams threw her against a wall, then down on a couch, ripped off her undergarments and raped her.
On the witness stand this week, Williams denied the allegations, insisting the woman let him into the house and the sex was consensual. He admitted to losing his temper afterward and smashing her cell phone before driving off. Williams wrecked his car while running from police.
The jury of eight women and four men spent about five hours deliberating the case Thursday before returning with a verdict that acquitted Williams of the most serious charges while finding him guilty of driving under the influence, reckless driving and fleeing and eluding an officer.
Jury foreman Jared Malone said neither the testimony of Williams or the accuser was completely believable.
"We thought that both testimonies were fairly inconsistent," Malone said. "We had a difficult time determining the accuracy of their statements.
"But due to all the evidence that came from all the sources, we felt it gave us more than reasonable doubt," the foreman said.
Williams already was facing a mandatory minimum of 25 years in prison if convicted of rape when prosecutors sought to have him sentenced as a repeat offender for a prior aggravated stalking conviction. The recidivist sentence for rape would have been life in prison.
Williams showed little emotion immediately after the verdict was announced but nodded his head vigorously as Judge Jason Deal told him his sentence on the misdemeanor convictions: 12 months in jail, community service, a $1,000 fine and banishment from Hall and Dawson counties for a year. Williams received credit for time served in the county jail since his arrest last October.
Earlier, in closing arguments to the jury, public defender Larry Duttweiler questioned why the accuser never told the first two people she talked to after the incident that she had been raped. Duttweiler said authorities "have put a huge bucket of cold water on the truth from the get-go."
His client’s sisters praised the lawyer’s work, including a closing argument that approached two hours.
"I think an attorney has got to believe in you, and he believed in Stephen and his heart was in it," Ginyard said.
She said while the lengthy closing argument may have tried the patience of some jurors, "for someone’s life, what is two hours?"
District Attorney Lee Darragh said afterward, "Acquaintance rape cases involving people who have had a prior intimate relationship are always difficult, but nonetheless worthy of pursuit for the victim and for all of us. The state respects the jury’s verdict and thanks them for their service."