County man faces trial on sexual battery charge

Published 5:00 am Friday, May 23, 2003

Prosecutors Thursday began pursuing a sexual battery convictionagainst a Lincoln County man charged in connection with a March2002 incident while the defense asserted there is enough reasonabledoubt to find him innocent.

Willie Laird, 41, of 726 Luther Trail, is accused of sexualbattery in the incident after picking up a 28-year-old woman inMcComb in early March of last year.

In opening statements Thursday, Assistant District AttorneyDiane Jones said the married woman had miscarried in February andhad been ordered by doctors not to have sex for six weeks. Jonessaid the woman’s outing to a McComb motel lounge with friends wasan effort to take her mind off recent events, which included somemarital difficulties.

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“She just wanted to get out of the house to think aboutsomething besides the loss of her baby,” Jones told jurors.

In previewing the state’s case, Jones said testimony andevidence would show the woman and her friends encountered Laird atthe lounge. The woman then accepted a ride from Laird to go to aMcComb nightclub when the lounge closed at midnight.

Around 3 a.m., Jones said the woman and Laird left in his truck.They headed north on Interstate 55 and eventually ended up onKing’s Trail, where Laird is alleged to have sexually assaulted thewoman in his truck.

Jones said the woman got away and was able to flag down apassing vehicle that had four young people riding in it. Jones saidLaird sped away and the woman was taken to King’s Daughters MedicalCenter, where DNA and other evidence was collected for comparisonwith Laird’s.

In a brief opening statement, however, defense attorney JoeFernald indicated there was actual or implied consent by the woman.Fernald said his client denies a sexual assault happened.

“He denies it extremely so,” Fernald said.

Among witnesses to testify during the prosecution’s caseThursday were the woman’s acquaintances and sheriff’s departmentinvestigator Lance Falvey. The trial was to resume Friday morningwith more testimony from Falvey, DNA testing companyrepresentatives and the victim.

The defense will then put on its case and the trial is expectedto conclude Friday afternoon. It was not known whether Laird wouldtestify in his defense.

This week’s trial is the second time Laird has faced sexualbattery charges in Lincoln County Circuit Court this year.

In March, he was found innocent of charges in connection with aJune 2002 incident involving a 51-year-old Pike County woman whomhe met at the same McComb location. Laird did not testify in theearlier trial.