Several key witnesses in the case of Henry "Hank" Reeves took the witness stand this week in an unprecedented hearing that could serve as a test case for the rest of the nation.
In 2001, Reeves was sentenced to prison following his conviction in Pitt County Superior Court for taking indecent liberties with his 6-year-old daughter, Marquita Reeves.
He was released after serving two years in prison, but now faces a life sentence in Georgia as a result of his refusal to register as a sex offender, required under Georgia law. Reeves has always maintained his innocence.
Reeves, 52, is the first person in North Carolina to have his case approved for a public hearing by the state's Innocence Inquiry Commission. On Thursday, Reeves' attorney, Ernest Conner, called several family members, including Marquita Reeves, now 15, and Hank Reeves to testify. His testimony continues today.
Marquita said she was forced to lie under oath at her father's original trial by her grandmother, who did not like Reeves. After the day's testimony, Conner called Marquita "a good witness" who testified "strong in her Dad's favor."
"I'm happy she made the case for us," Conner added.
On Wednesday, two of Reeves' stepsons offered strong testimony in his favor. Lamar and Donald Hardy both testified that their grandmother, Barbara Hardy, had asked Marquita leading questions and coached her in an attempt to accuse Reeves of molesting the child.
Both boys also testified that Hardy used foul language and frequently beat them severely, sometimes with a 2-by-4.
In his testimony, Lamar recalled a June 7, 1999, incident in which he witnessed his grandmother asking Marquita questions about the color and size of Hank's penis. "She explained to Marquita what she had to say [to investigators]," Lamar said on the witness stand. Donald testified that he heard the same conversation.
The three judges on the Innocence Commission must rule unanimously in Reeves' favor to dismiss the original charges. If Reeves wins, Georgia authorities have indicated they also will dismiss the other charge.
Because the proceeding is unprecedented, it's unclear how the judges will deliberate after all the evidence is presented.
"I don't think that's clear," Hunter said. "We're making it up as we go. I would hope the judges would discuss [the case] among themselves."
The defense is expected to rest today, but the hearing will run into next week, Conner said.
"It's a landmark case no matter how it's resolved," said Tye Hunter, an attorney who was part of the working committee that established the Innocence Commission in 2006. "It's a unique proceeding in American jurisprudence."