WINCHESTER — A Winchester Circuit Court jury has acquitted a Jamaican immigrant accused of using intimidation to rape a 15-year-old girl in his care.
The verdict in the case against Easton Lee Beckford, 57, of Winchester, came in shortly before midnight on Friday after a jury of six men and six women twice indicated it may not be able to reach a decision at all.
Beckford, 57, was charged with raping a minor by using force or intimidation and taking indecent liberties with a child. His alleged victim was 15 at the time, and the girl’s mother had entrusted her care to Beckford.
The girl is now 19 years old but is not being identified by The Winchester Star due to her age at the time of the allegations.
The accuser testified on Thursday, the first day of Beckford’s trial, that the defendant asked her six times in a row to have sex with him sometime in May or June 2017. She said no five times, but then changed her answer to yes because she felt pressured that she had no other choice.
She also said pornography was prevalent in Beckford’s Winchester home, which is where the alleged assault occurred, and that Beckford had previously shown her a pornographic video while offering to introduce her to those sexual acts if she ever became curious.
Beckford testified on Friday that he had a good relationship with the alleged victim and denied owning a stash of pornography. The girl, Beckford said, made up her claims against him because she likes cats and he does not.
Shortly after the alleged sexual encounter with the 15-year-old, Beckford ended a romantic relationship with the girl’s mother because, he testified on Friday, he suspected the woman had cheated on him. A few weeks after their relationship ended, Beckford learned the girl had told her mother he had raped her.
Beckford said he moved on with his life without giving much thought to the girl’s allegations. He first went to West Virginia, then to Georgia, then to Florida. He also visited family in Jamaica on two occasions but always returned to the United States.
“If I had done this crime and made it to Jamaica, I would never come back here,” Beckford said on Friday.
In May, Beckford was arrested in Orlando, Florida, and extradited back to Winchester. While being held in the Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center in Frederick County, he showed a fellow inmate paperwork regarding his charges of rape and indecent liberties. That inmate was a nephew of the accuser’s mother.
The inmate testified against Beckford on Thursday. He claimed Beckford admitted to having sex with the girl, but it was consensual.
Police recovered DNA from the scene of the alleged rape but none of the samples matched Beckford. Also, the girl’s mother died one month before the trial began, so she was unable to offer any testimony. As a result, the case presented to the jury at 1:30 p.m. Friday boiled down to a matter of he said, she said.
At 7 p.m., nearly six hours after closed-door deliberations began, the jury’s forewoman sent a note to Judge Brian M. Madden stating the panel was far from consensus.
When Madden called the jury back into the courtroom at 7:30 p.m. and questioned the forewoman as to whether she felt a verdict could be reached on Friday night, she replied, “I do not.”
“I would object to a mistrial at this point,” Winchester Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Keith R. Buzby told Madden, while defense attorney Robert V. Bryan Jr. countered the judge should consider a mistrial.
Madden instructed the jury to continue its deliberations. He did not order dinner for the group because none of the jurors had asked to eat, even though they had not had a meal for nearly eight hours.
At 9 p.m., the jury forewoman sent Madden another note: “We are not sure we can change the vote.”
One hour later, Madden called the jurors back into the courtroom to ask if they wanted to continue deliberating or take a break and return on Monday. Ten of the 12 jury members said they wanted to continue, so Madden directed Winchester Circuit Court Clerk Will Gardner to order pizza for their dinner.
At 11:35 p.m., before the pizza arrived, the jury came back with its verdict: Not guilty on both counts. Madden thanked the 12 men and women for the service and, shortly before midnight, sent them home before they had an opportunity to eat.
Beckford’s accuser appeared to be devastated by the verdict. She and three supporters slipped out of the courtroom before Madden finished thanking the jury for its service.
Beckford, who had faced a maximum sentence of life in prison, had been held at the Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center since May. He asked the judge late Friday night if he could be released into the custody of his lawyer, a proposal to which Madden agreed. However, a deputy with the Winchester Sheriff’s Office advised Madden that Beckford had to return to the jail to be processed, so the judge had to tell the defendant that freedom was still a few hours away.