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Jury convicts Macon man of raping 14-year-old girl. She contracted HIV from him

A Macon man has been found guilty of 10 crimes, including rape and child molestation, after he repeatedly sexually assaulted a 14-year-old girl in 2016 and 2017, according to the Macon Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office.

Torrence Fatai Thornton, 49, was sentenced Friday to three consecutive life sentences and an additional 90 years in prison.

The jury needed just 20 minutes to convict him in a case that had been pending for more than seven years. The trial, which began Monday, Jan. 8, lasted one week.

Thornton raped and molested the girl repeatedly for almost a year, according to witnesses who testified during the trial, and he also sexually assaulted a second woman during that span. The rape of the second woman, who was 21 at the time, was discovered during the investigation, the DA’s office said.

“My heart is truly saddened by the horrific events these two young girls were forced to endure at the hands of this predator,” said DA Anita Howard in a written statement. “His actions, in effect, sentenced them both to a lifetime of nightmares, guilt and shame, including a lifetime of HIV infection for one young victim. I am so proud of these young ladies for their commitment to seeing this case through to its rightful culmination.”

In addition to the sexual assaults, the jury convicted Thornton of reckless conduct by a person with HIV after he raped the girl while knowing he was HIV positive. The 14-year-old girl who was violated repeatedly over the course of a year later tested positive for HIV, which sparked the investigation that led authorities to Thornton.

Prosecutors during trial said Thornton “was like an uncle” to the girl.

“(Thornton) made the fateful statement to (the girl), one that he would repeat often during the course of the next year. ‘If you do for me, I’ll do for you,’” lead prosecuting attorney Dawn Baskin said during her opening statement. “Evidence will show that she was 14 at the time in 2016, and she did not know what the scope of that meant.”

How the trial unfolded

Thornton and his attorneys claimed in the trial that the girl, who lived on the same property as him but in a separate house at the time, falsified the assault claims to try and escape the custody of her legal guardian at the time, who they say was very strict.

Defense attorneys also argued that Thornton has a condition that prevents him from having sex.

A key wrinkle in the case surfaced when prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed under an order from Judge Jeffery Monroe before the trial began to bar witnesses from discussing whether the 14-year-old victim had tested positive for HIV.

The trial took an early turn during opening statements when a defense attorney claimed there was “no physical evidence” against Thornton proving the sex assaults.

Prosecuting attorney Baskin pounced, objecting to the statement, and lobbying for Judge Monroe to let witnesses speak about the victim’s HIV test. She claimed that the girl’s status as HIV positive counted as physical evidence.

“(The defense attorney) specifically said ‘no physical evidence of an assault.’ That, your honor, opens the door. This young lady is HIV positive. That is evidence of an assault,” Baskin said. “She was 15 … somebody had to give it to her. I have an expert who’s treated her who is prepared to say that she has HIV.”

Monroe agreed and allowed the testimony.

“You danced too close to a bear trap, and stuck your foot in it, and now it’s closed,” Monroe sternly told one defense attorney as he vacated the old ruling.

The first testimony after the ruling came from doctors and nurses who confirmed that the younger victim tested positive for HIV in 2017.

Next came testimony from family members and the victims. One witness, a woman who became the victim’s legal guardian after the alleged child molestation, recounted how the victim “shed many tears” when she was told she had HIV.

The victim and witnesses claimed on the stand that Thornton told her he had cancer, a lie to apparently cover up that he was HIV positive.