An Augusta child molestation conviction and 20-year prison sentence were thrown out by an appeals court this month.
The Georgia Court of Appeals reversed Johnny Sim Heggs' conviction on child molestation, ruling the charge should never have been considered by the Richmond County Superior Court jury because it was not a lesser included offense in the rape case.
Mr. Heggs, now 59, was indicted on a charge of rape, accused of committing the crime April 6, 1997. According to testimony during his April 1998 trial, a girl testified she was 14 years old when Mr. Heggs, a family friend in Augusta for his mother's funeral, raped her.
Mr. Heggs contended the girl consented to sexual relations.
According to the appeals court's opinion released Oct. 13, Chief Judge William M. Fleming Jr. informed Mr. Heggs and his attorney that he intended to give the jury instructions on the legal definition of rape and child molestation.
The defense attorney immediately objected, arguing the indictment against Mr. Heggs made no mention of the girl's age - child molestation occurs between an adult and child younger than 16 - and that child molestation was not a lesser included offense in Mr. Heggs' case.
The jury found Mr. Heggs guilty of child molestation. But the Court of Appeals agreed with Mr. Heggs' attorney that the jury should not have considered that charge.
District Attorney Danny Craig said he will retry Mr. Heggs on the original rape charge.
Attorney Paul David, who successfully argued Mr. Heggs' appeal, said that if Mr. Heggs is scheduled for trial again, he will file a motion to dismiss based on double jeopardy. The jury's verdict to convict on child molestation instead of rape is an explicit finding that Mr. Heggs' was not guilty of rape, Mr. David said.
Mr. Heggs previously was convicted of rape and statutory rape in Toombs County Superior Court. He was sentenced to serve eight years in prison in July 1986 for an assault on a girl who was 13 years old. He was released from prison in March 1993.
Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226.