COVINGTON—A St. Tammany Parish jury found James. R. Eley, 33, of Madisonville, guilty Thursday (Sept. 10) of the aggravated rape of a boy who was 4 years old when the incident occurred in April 2012. Eley faces up to life in prison.
Assistant District Attorney Jay Adair prosecuted the case before Judge Allison Penzato, who is scheduled to sentence Eley on Sept. 28. The jury deliberated about 1½ hours before returning the guilty verdict on the victim’s eighth birthday.
The boy wasn’t present for the verdict, but he had testified the day before that he didn’t remember anything unusual happening to him when he was 4. But Adair, aided by Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Kilian, persuaded the jury that on April 20, 2012, Eley lured the boy into a neighbor’s home and molested him in the bathroom.
“I’m glad (the victim) doesn’t remember,” Adair told the jury at one point during his closing argument. But later, Adair urged: “Give him the gift of justice. Give him the best birthday gift that he will never remember.”
The child’s mother testified that she was cooking out in the backyard and talking with a friend that night when she noticed that her son, who had been playing nearby about five minutes earlier, was missing. She said she began calling his name and was walking down the street looking for him when she saw him leaving a neighbor’s home. Eley, who had been staying at the neighbor’s house, was following the child. The mother said that when she questioned her son, he told her in his childlike way that Eley had touched his private part and put it in his mouth. The boy later told a similar story on video to a specialist at the Children’s Advocacy Center in Covington and a specially-trained pediatrician at Children’s Hospital in New Orleans.
The jury rejected Eley’s claim that he simply had helped the child go to the bathroom. Adair pointed out that at nearly 5 years old, the boy needed no such help.
District Attorney Warren Montgomery praised the work of Adair and Kilian, a new staff attorney. Montgomery said this three-year-old case is an example of how his administration is prioritizing major cases that have languished in the criminal justice system to move them forward as expeditiously as possible.