By Bill Brubaker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 11, 2008
A Loudoun County jury yesterday found former civil rights leader James L. Bevel guilty of incest and said he should spend 15 years in prison for having sex with one of his daughters in the 1990s when they lived in Leesburg.
The seven-man, five-woman jury also gave Bevel, a 71-year-old Christian minister and confidant of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., a $50,000 fine. Under Virginia law, the judge can reduce the jury's sentence but cannot increase it.
Circuit Court Judge Burke F. McCahill revoked Bevel's bond, and the defendant was taken into custody. Bevel's court-appointed attorney, Bonnie Hoffman, said he might appeal.
Bevel was convicted of unlawfully committing fornication while he lived with the daughter, Jamese Machado, from Oct. 14, 1992, to Oct. 14, 1994. The Washington Post does not identify victims of sexual assault without their permission. Yesterday, Machado said she wanted to be named.
The felony charge grew out of a discussion some of Bevel's grown daughters had at a family reunion in 2004 about experiences with their father when they were children. The daughters confronted their father, who said he performed sex acts to guide and train them, prosecutors said. In September 2005, Machado filed a complaint with Leesburg police. She testified that her father began sexually abusing her when she was 6 and that she became an alcoholic.
In their closing arguments yesterday, prosecutors told the jury that a comment Bevel made about pregnancy in a taped phone conversation with Machado was the "damning" piece of evidence against him.
In the 1 1/2 -hour call, recorded by Leesburg police without Bevel's knowledge in 2005, Machado asked her father about his motivation for having sex with her when she was 14 or 15, and why afterward he asked her to use a vaginal douche.
Bevel responded, "Because I had no interest in getting you pregnant," prosecutors said.
Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Nicole Wittmann recalled Bevel's denial that he had sex with Machado, and then she posed the question, "How do you get someone pregnant without having sex with them?"
In the year since she filed charges against her father, Machado has changed her name to Aaralyn Mills. But she was referred to as Machado during the four-day trial.
Bevel was a front-and-center figure in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. He organized the 1963 Children's Crusade in Birmingham, Ala., and was a leader of the Freedom Rides to desegregate public accommodations throughout the South in the early 1960s. He helped organize the March on Washington in 1963 and the Selma-to-Montgomery march in Alabama in 1965. Along with civil rights icons Jesse Jackson and Andrew Young, Bevel witnessed the April 4, 1968, assassination of King.
On Wednesday, Bevel suggested to the jury that the charge was part of a conspiracy, though he did not say by whom. "Someone has plotted to destroy my reputation, my being," he said.
Hoffman sought to poke holes in Machado's testimony, asserting, for example, that while she testified to many specific details about her life she could not pinpoint the year her father allegedly had sex with her.
Hoffman also reminded the jury of testimony by Bevel's eldest daughter that Machado planned to write a book, presumably about the allegations.
The public defender told the jury to focus on the charge and not on other interactions Bevel had with Machado. Hoffman asked Bevel whether he had ever rubbed Machado's chest -- another allegation she has made but one that is not part of this criminal case.
"Yes, I have engaged in rubbing [her] chest in an educational context," he said. Bevel testified that as a minister and a teacher, he has educated people, including his children, on the "science" of sex and marriage.
Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Gigi Lawless reminded jurors of testimony from several Bevel family members about two meetings in which they discussed the allegations. At a meeting outside Selma in 2004, they gave Bevel an affidavit that accused him of being a pedophile and having sex with Machado.
They said they prepared the document because they feared that Bevel would sexually abuse his youngest daughter.
Some family members testified that Bevel did not deny the allegations.
The jury reached its verdict after several hours of deliberation. During the sentencing phase, in which jurors considered a range of five to 20 years in prison, Wittmann called one witness: Machado. "The hardest part is that I love my father and I wish he loved me as much," she said tearfully.
Hoffman played a 40-minute documentary for the jury about the role King, Bevel and others played in the civil rights movement.
Then Wittmann told the jury, "There are two Reverend Bevels. . . . While he did a lot of wonderful things, he also did some horrific things."