A suspect facing child molestation charges was granted a $75,000 bond in Jones County Superior Court, which is a rare occurrence.
Michael Anthony Lester, 57, was arrested June 7 and charged with child molestation and aggravated child molestation following a complaint that dates back seven years. He was in court July 8, represented by defense attorney Keith Fitzgerald seeking a bond.
Assistant District Attorney Faith Worley handled the case for the state.
After hearing the arguments from the attorneys, Superior Court Judge Terry Massey granted Lester a bond with the stipulation the defendant remains at home and is monitored.
The judge said the cost of the monitoring device was to be born by Lester.
He said the only exceptions to the house arrest are the defendant is allowed to go to work and doctor visits.
Massey also left the type of bond up to the sheriff’s discretion.
The side of the courtroom behind Lester was filled with supporters at the bond hearing. Fitzgerald said each of those supporters were ready to speak on his client’s behalf. The attorney said Lester is no risk to flee as he has an autistic son who needs him.
“Mr. Lester is trusted by members of the community and is no risk to reoffend,” the attorney said. “The only allegations he has happened seven years ago.”
Worley had a different opinion of the defendant. She told the court that the complaint against Lester surfaced after the victim attempted suicide.
“She was taken to the hospital and the information about the molestation came out during therapy,” the prosecutor said.
Worley said three more allegations against Lester came out after his arrest, and now there are six accusers. She said the original victim said she had not spoken about it before because she was afraid.
“I appreciate the defendant has support, and none of us want to believe something like this can happen. But this child slit her wrists,” the prosecutor stated. “I ask you to deny bond.”
Massey said anytime a defendant is let out, there is a risk to reoffend.
“These are very serious charges. The court has to balance the liberty of the defendant with the safety of the community,” he said.
The judge asked Worley if house arrest would work. She said no because there is no mechanism to supervise the defendant. Again she asked the court to deny bond.
Fitzgerald said there are very few facts about the case available.
“That’s why we have a trial. We can’t decide guilt or innocence, and if he violates, he will be found out,” he said.
The attorney said his supporters would vouch for his integrity.
The prosecutor said the state is also concerned that minor children would come to the defendant’s home.
Massey said the court could only do so much to protect the public.
The judge reiterated that there is always a risk when a defendant is released on bond.
“How fair is it to leave him in jail for a year or two, only for him to be found innocent?” he asked. “We can take steps to protect the victim.”
Massey told the defense, if Lester was under house arrest, the court needed some confidence that he will be monitored.
Worley asked what kind of work the defendant did for his employer. The response was his employer is a neurologist, and he did general cleaning at the office and at the doctor’s home.
Fitzgerald told the court that his client was of minimal means and asked him to consider the expense of monitoring when setting the bond amount.
Massey asked if the state had a recommendation for the amount of bond, and Worley said she did not. She said she could not find a record of bond being set in Jones County for the charges of child molestation and aggravated child molestation.
Massey stated he would grant a $75,000 bond but would leave the type of bond to the sheriff’s discretion.
“These are very serious charges. If convicted, you could spend the rest of your life in prison. I want a monitored house arrest program – work, home doctor visits,” he said. “You are presumed innocent, but I have to do all I can to protect the public. Any violation can revoke your bond.”
A problem arose the following day when the monitoring company assessed Lester. Due to special boots the defendant wears because of a foot problem, it is not possible to place the monitor on his ankle.
That prompted the state to ask Massey to reconsider the bond at a motion day in Greene County July 12, but ultimately he left the bond in place.
The father of the victim and the investigator in the case both spoke at Monday’s hearing. The father told the court Lester stole his daughter’s innocence.
“She replays the incident over and over. She said she tried to take her life because she was so tired of reliving it,” he said. “He’s a predator and doesn’t deserve to be walking around free so he can do this to someone else.”
The father said it would be a comfort to his daughter to know Lester is locked away.
“I ask you to revoke his bond and give her justice,” he said.
JCSO Investigator John Simmons was asked how many victims had come forward. He said he had statements from four victims and is investigating allegations from two others.
Worley asked what took them so long to report the molestation and he said they were afraid.
“They said he threatened their families,” the investigator said.
Fitzgerald told the court he understands the father’s desire for justice, but his statements were appropriate at a sentencing hearing if his client was found guilty.
“At this time, Mr. Lester is presumed innocent,” the attorney said.
Fitzgerald noted that the allegations were all very old with the most recent from seven years ago.
“He’s 55 years old and can barely walk.”
Worley said the state remains adamantly opposed to bond. She said the allegations are old because the victims were afraid. The prosecutor suggested the only way to monitor Lester was to keep him in jail.
The judge had the final word and left the $75,000 bond in place along with the previous restrictions.
“Not giving him a bond would accomplish that,”