Man, 65, gets 40 years

Forty years in prison might be a death sentence for Earnest Rhodes, but a judge told him Wednesday that it's a sentence he deserves.

Mr. Rhodes, 65, was convicted in Richmond County Superior Court this week of sexual assault crimes, including child molestation.

"I can't think of a more despicable case," said Judge J. Carlisle Overstreet, who has been on the bench since 1991.

Mr. Rhodes was indicted in the spring when DNA testing confirmed that he was the father of a child born in 1998 to a 13-year-old girl.

The victim told a jury that the first time, "I was, like, 10 years old. He wouldn't get off me for nothing in the world. I was just crying. I couldn't fight him anymore. ... It was an indescribable pain."

It would happen over and over, usually after school, the young woman told the jury this week.

"I got to the point I didn't have no feelings. ... I wasn't even there anymore."

When she was 14, she tried to commit suicide, she testified. The sheriff's department was called and the Department of Family and Children Services got involved, but nothing happened.

"I felt like something lower than the bottom of your shoe. I was nothing," the victim said.

In the spring, a chance meeting with District Attorney Danny Craig changed that. A new investigation began with DNA testing.

Assistant District Attorney Philip Catalano, who prosecuted the case, asked the judge for the maximum sentence for Mr. Rhodes. Mr. Catalano called Mr. Rhodes a predator.

Mr. Rhodes was also arrested in 1994. A 16-year-old girl told police that he forced her to commit sodomy after locking her inside an office at Sego Middle School, where he was a custodian. The grand jury chose not to indict him on criminal charges.

Defense attorney Barry Middleton asked the judge not to consider any other allegations against Mr. Rhodes.

Mr. Rhodes worked for the school system for 30 years. He served in the Vietnam War. He had no prior convictions, and he is in poor health, Mr. Middleton said.

Judge Overstreet said part of his job is to protect society.

"I don't think he needs to be out on the streets," he said.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or sandy.hodson@augustachronicle.com.