The likelihood of a 69-year-old Conway man to once again walk freely in the community he calls home was significantly reduced after being found guilty on Tuesday of five counts of sexual assault in the second degree. Billy Wayne Gray was found guilty by a jury and sentenced to 100 years in prison. The jury returned the verdict with less than 30 minutes of deliberation.
Gray was arrested in July 2010 when his victim confided in a family member that Gray had touched her inappropriately beginning in 2002, when she was 7 years old. The Faulkner County Sheriff’s Department handled the investigation and ultimately Gray confessed to licking the child’s genital area as well as her breasts and kissing her on the mouth.
When attorneys for the prosecutor’s office asked the victim how many times Gray had assaulted her, she replied "too many times to count."
Prosecutors established that Gray had been a close friend of the family and was like a grandfather to the victim, which enabled Gray to spend time alone with the child and her brother. The children stayed with Gray and his wife to attend church-related activities and spent weekends at Gray’s home. Gray was retired and had access to the victim when his wife was at work. The abuse ended in 2006 when the victim got older and no longer wanted to spend time with Gray.
When the victim was asked how long the duration of the assaults were, she replied, "There was no time, only misery."
Gray did not testify at the trial, but a digital recording of Gray’s 2010 interview with Sgt. Joni Clark and Capt. Matt Rice was played and the jury got to hear in his own words how he assaulted the victim and also his reasoning behind his actions.
"I didn’t do anything to her that she didn’t want," Gray said.
However, he later stated that he hadn’t asked the victim to do anything when she got older because he knew it was wrong.
"I tried to fight it," he said. "I knew it was wrong but it was like reaching for a piece of candy and I couldn’t stop."
On the recording, Sgt. Clark can be heard asking Gray if he had done anything else to the victim, to which he replied, "That’s enough isn’t it?"
Gray’s attorney, Matt Adlong, did not question the victim or her family members but took exception with Sgt. Clark, referring to a point in the recording where Gray was told by investigators that they did not want to see him go to jail.
"Did you mean that you did not want to see him go to jail for what he had done?," Adlong asked.
Sgt. Clark explained that a routine part of an investigation is to make the suspect think law enforcement is on their side so they open up about the crime and that obviously investigators wanted Gray to be jailed for his crimes.
"It is a common tactic that we use to make suspects believe that we understand their side of things," she said. "If we walk into a room and are rude to a suspect they will not tell us anything."
The jury deliberated for less than 30 minutes before returning a guilty verdict and sat through statements from the victim’s parents about how the incident has affected their family.
The victim’s father’s voice wavered as he addressed the jury and explained how he no longer trusts anyone with his children.
"I blame myself for not seeing the signs and not knowing that one of our closest friends was hurting my daughter," he said. "I no longer trust anyone with my children, this incident has made me not want to trust anyone in their lives again."
The victim’s mother broke down on the stand and through sobs told the jury that she hopes this ordeal makes her daughter stronger.
I hope and pray that this doesn’t affect my daughter for the rest of her life, but I don’t know," she said. "My only hope is that this makes her stronger."
The jury briefly deliberated on the sentencing for Gray and returned a verdict of the maximum 20-year sentence that could be issued for each count. Since authorities were not able to determine how many times Gray assaulted the victim, they charged him with five counts, one for each year the assaults took place.
Cody Hiland, 20th Judicial District prosecuting attorney, said he is pleased with the outcome of the trial.
"The jury sent a powerful message today to the community," he said. "That message is that people who assault children are going to face and pay consequences."
Hiland also credited the investigators with the Faulkner County Sheriff’s Office for their work on the case as well as the attorneys that tried the case.
"Fundamentally, the jury wouldn’t have had the opportunity to hear this case if Sgt. Joni Clark and Capt. Matt Rice hadn’t done such a terrific job with the investigation," he said. "Nor would they have had the opportunity if Chuck Clawson and Troy Braswell had not been determined to take the case to the mat."
Gray was also questioned in previous years for allegations from the victim’s older cousin that she was also assaulted while in Gray’s care. There was not enough evidence at the time to charge Gray and the statute of limitations has run out on the incident. However, while being questioned about the assault on the victim Gray admitted that he had also assaulted the victim’s cousin.
(Candie Beck is a staff writer and can be reached at 505-1238 or at firstname.lastname@example.org)