Dickens acquitted of rape, convicted of kidnapping

Published Thursday, September 29, 2005

Joshua Dickens, 22, of Greenbrier was acquitted of a rape charge Wednesday, but was convicted of two felonies.

Dickens was arrested in December 2004 after being elected constable of East Fork Township, but he was never sworn into office.

A jury found Dickens guilty of kidnapping and aggravated assault of a family or household member, both felonies and third-degree domestic battery, a misdemeanor, all stemming from a December 2004 incident involving a woman with whom he had an ongoing relationship.

Dickens' attorney, Frank Shaw, said, "An appeal is always a possibility. Until the complete verdict is in, we can't decide."

He said the rape shield law, as applied in this case, kept the defense from "providing the jury with a complete explanation of what went on."

Shaw pointed out the jury found Dickens guilty of the lesser of two possible kidnapping charges - a B felony instead of a Y felony, because the victim was released alive in a safe place.

The victim said, "I'm very happy with the verdict. He needed to be held accountable for his actions."

The trial was originally scheduled for Wednesday but was moved up a day because of a conflict with a witness' schedule, according to Deputy Prosecutor Stephan Hawks.

Tuesday's testimony included the arresting officer, the emergency room doctor who examined the victim, and deputy coroner Leslie Moore, who took photos of the woman's injuries. The jury also viewed the photos Tuesday.

Hawks said Dr. Jesse Clanton testified the bruises, abrasions and two hematomas were not life-threatening injuries, but cumulatively, they were more injuries than he typically sees in beatings.

Wednesday began with testimony from the victim. She told of an ordeal that lasted from 11:30 p.m. to 4 a.m.

She said she and Dickens were at his home watching television together when he began slapping her and demanding she tell him whether she was cheating on him. She said he sat on top of her and burned her several times by lighting a cigarette lighter for several seconds and then pressing the hot metal against her skin.

She said he told her he would stop if she told him "what he wanted to know." She said he ripped off her clothes and raped her and then smothered her with a T-shirt or a towel until she vomited.

The victim said she wanted to leave but Dickens would not let her. She said he took her to a gas station in Conway and bought sodas for them. On the way back to the house, she said he held a knife to her throat and said he could kill her and throw her in a ditch and no one would know.

When they returned, the victim said she tried to call 911, but Dickens broke her cellular phone. She said she tried to run away but he pushed her down, kicked her in the chest and carried her inside. Hawks introduced as evidence a T-shirt with a dirt stain on the front the victim said is a footprint.

The victim said she made up a story about cheating on him with another man so that Dickens would stop hurting her. She spent the night there, and in the morning she asked him for the keys to her vehicle, telling him she needed to take a college exam, she said. She then went to the police.

Dickens admitted slapping and burning the victim but denied most of the other allegations.

He testified he was deeply disturbed because he had found out from "reliable sources" that she was cheating on him. He said he became more upset when she did not answer his questions, and that is when he began slapping her and then burned her.

Dickens said he told the woman to leave, picked her up by her shirt and dragged her outside and locked the door. He said she would not leave, so he let her back in, and the two of them "scuffled" some more.

Dickens said the woman asked him to take her to the gas station. He said he pumped gas while she went inside to get drinks. He said if she had wanted to leave, she could have done so then. He also said she had an opportunity to leave while he took a 45-minute shower after they returned from the gas station. He said he did not take her keys away, and she could have left in her vehicle at any time, or she could have gone to one of several neighbors.

Dickens testified that during his interview at the Faulkner County Sheriff's Office, Investigator Jeff Johnston pressured him to change his statement. Johnston denied threatening Dickens or promising him anything.

Dickens said Johnston told him if his statement matched the woman's, he would only be prosecuted on the misdemeanor battery charge that he was arrested on. He was told if the statements conflicted, he could be facing two felony charges, he said.

Believing this, during the interview, he admitted to touching the woman's vaginal area and holding a knife to her throat, he said. At trial he denied doing either of those things.

Dickens' father, a former pastor and missionary who now works with elderly people, testified that his son called and said he had been arrested. He testified that his son said his statement had to match that of the victim in order to escape the felony charges.

Also testifying for the defense were several character witnesses, including State Sen. Gilbert Baker, former State Rep. Marvin Parks, Doyle Cook and former Justice of the Peace Buryl York. Each of them knew Dickens through various political campaigns. They characterized him as honest, dependable and a good employee.

The jury deliberated for about three hours before delivering the verdict. After the guilt phase, the jury elected to move directly into the sentencing phase. Shaw said he would call more witnesses for the sentencing phase.

By 11:15 p.m. Wednesday, sentencing was not completed.

(Staff writer Rachel Parker may be reached by e-mail at rachel.parker@thecabin.net or by phone at 505-1277.)

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