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A Bedford County man faces 48 years in prison following conviction and sentencing by a jury.
Michael Nicholas Bowden, 20, stood trial in Bedford County Circuit Court, Tuesday, charged with unlawfully detaining Kelli Beamer, also 20, choking her with his hands and raping her. The incident occurred at his father's home on Feb. 22.
According to court testimony, the two had a relationship for several years. Beamer testified that it had been sexual since they were 16. The sex occurred at either Bowden's father's house or at Beamer's parents' house.
Beamer testified that Bowden's behavior toward her was controlling. He would often demand to see he cell phone and look to see who had sent her text message, getting angry if any were from a guy.
She said that the night before the incident, she had driven to pick up a male friend at a Big Lots where he worked. Bowden called her three times, telling her in the last voice mail message that she had better call him back. She did and told him that she was at a Wal-Mart with her mother. He told her that he knew where she really was and she admitted it. He then began cussing her and she hung up.
Bowden called her again at 6 a. m. on the 22nd and asked her to come to his house, actually his father's house, to talk about what happened the previous night. She countered with an invitation to come over to her house. Bowden, however, insisted that she come to his place and she agreed, as long as Bowden's father was there. Bowden assured her that his father was home.
According to court testimony, Bowden's father was not at home when Beamer got there and his vehicle was gone from the driveway as he had left for work. Beamer walked into the house, went to Bowden's bedroom where she found him dressed and on his bed watching TV.
The accounts of what happened after that differed.
Beamer said that, when she entered Bowden's bedroom, she said "hello" to him. He didn't respond and, after waiting, she started to leave. Bowden then grabbed her by the hair, said, "Where do you think you're going?" and dragged her to the bed.
According to Beamer, Bowden choked her three times, each time with greater force, yelling at her all the time. During the third choking, Beamer said she couldn't breathe.
"Things started to go black," she testified.
Bowden was holding her hands together at the wrist with one hand while this went on. At one point she got a hand free and slapped him. He then slapped her on the side of her head and the Commonwealth presented photos showing injury to her neck and ear from the earring she was wearing. Beamer also said that Bowden bit her on the face and Commonwealth's Attorney Randy Krantz stated that the tooth marks are still visible on her face.
Beamer said that, after the assault, he forced her to perform oral sex on him, then he pulled off her shoes, pulled her pants down, while holding her hands together with one hand, and raped her.
Then he let her go.
The defense's version of the incident was that Bowden, who was seeing another young woman who is pregnant by him, had called Beamer the previous night to end their relationship. According to the defense, Beamer had gone to see Bowden that morning to try to patch things up, became angry with Bowden when he insisted on breaking up with him, and slapped him. This precipitated Bowden's assault.
"He has a bad temper, no question about that," said Richard Lawrence, Bowden's defense attorney, who portrayed Bowden's attack as an overreaction by a young man with an anger control problem. Lawrence argued that the sex was consensual, a final effort on Beamer's part to restart their relationship, denying that Bowden had prevented her from leaving. He portrayed the charges that Beamer ultimately filed against Bowden as an act of spite after he still refused to renew their relationship.
According to court testimony, Beamer contacted a female friend and related what had happened to her. When her friend saw Beamer's injuries, she told Beamer to go to the police. Beamer did this after her friend agreed to accompany her.
Beamer's injuries were documented in evidence photos, which Krantz presented to the jury. An examination by a forensic nurse examiner documented vaginal tears and Krantz presented this as evidence that the sexual encounter was not consensual.
After charges were filed, Bowden e-mailed Beamer via her MySpace web page apologizing to her, telling her he had purchased gifts for her and asking her to call him. She replied via e-mail and Krantz had Beamer read her reply in court.
"I thought you were going to kill me," she wrote.
Beamer wrote to Bowden that he would have to deal with what he had done to her and that she had warned him, in high school, that she would make him pay for it if he ever hit her. She added that she hoped he would learn that he can't treat a woman that way.
She testified that Bowden had been aggressive with her in the past. After each incident, he would apologize.
"Michael Bowden has an explosive temper," Krantz said in his closing argument. "Michael Bowden does not like people defying him."
"We have laws that say you can't do that to a dog," Krantz said, referring Bowden's assault on Beamer.
He pointed out that Beamer testified that she had trouble hearing from one ear for several days after Bowden hit her on the side of her head. Krantz also said that the red marks on Beamer's throat in evidence photos taken several hours after the assault indicate the amount of force Bowden applied to her throat.
Krantz added that Bowden has been charged in Roanoke County for assaulting and choking his mother.
Lawrence agreed that Bowden has an explosive temper and assaulted Beamer, an assault that he insisted Beamer initiated by slapping him. He also agreed that Bowden caused Beamer bodily injury but denied that he intended to kill or disfigure her and that there was no malice involved on his part. Lawrence argued for a conviction on assault, rather than the felony with which he was charged.
"Three felonies doom Michael Bowden from now on," Lawrence told the jurors.
After deliberating for an hour, the jury returned, with grim expressions. The convicted Bowden of malicious bodily injury, abduction and rape.
"I'm sorry," Bowden said, sobbing, after hearing the verdict. "I'm not a bad person. I did a bad thing. I made a mistake, the worst mistake I ever made."
Krantz asked Bowden if he was sorry for what he did, or sorry he got caught.
"I'm sorry for what I did," Bowden replied.
After convicting a person, a jury imposes a sentence and may impose any sentence that the law in the case allows. The law allows up to life for the rape charge, up to 20 years for bodily injury and up to 10 for abduction.
"Every day Michael Bowden is in prison, women can be sure that he won't beat, rape or choke them," Kantz told the jury, urging them to think what it was like for Beamer that day.
Lawrence argued for the minimum sentence on the three charges, which would total 11 years, noting that Bowden had on previous criminal record.
In an interview, while awaiting the jury's sentence, Lawrence said that he was not surprised that Bowden was convicted of malicious bodily harm.
"But I am surprised by the finding of guilty of abduction and rape," he said. "She went to his house. She had every opportunity to leave."
The sentencing phase took longer. At one point, they asked Judge James Updike if the sentences they imposed would be served concurrently or consecutively. Updike replied that they should fix a sentence according to the law and what they feel is appropriate.
Updike noted to Krantz and Lawrence that Bowden has the right to a presentence report and Lawrence may argue that the sentences run concurrently or that portions may be suspended.
The jury deliberated for an hour, then asked Updike if they could come back on Wednesday morning. Updike agreed.
"I think your decision to come back tomorrow is a wise one," he told the jury foreman, noting that his 30 years of experience in the courthouse made him aware that mental fatigue can set in.
The jury came back at 8:30 a.m, deliberated until noon, and sentenced Bowden to five years for abduction, 10 years for malicious bodily injury and 33 years for rape, for a total of 48 years in prison.
"I certainly think the facts of the case support the sentence," Krantz commented.
Krantz noted that the jury paid close attention to the trial and saw that Bowden posed a continuous threat to public safety. The facts of the case, Krantz said, show that Bowden not only raped Beamer but did so in the context of a vicious beating. He also said that the only time Bowden showed contrition was after he was convicted.
"I believe Mr. Bowden is a sociopath," Krantz said.
Krantz said that Bowden had previously choked women. He had introduced, as evidence, a protective order that another girlfriend, who is pregnant by Bowden, took out against him. The protective order alleges that he kicked and choked her.
"He didn't like women," Krantz said. "He saw them as an object."
Krantz said that the sentence indicates that the jury saw that Bowden needs to be isolated from the community to protect others.
"Yes, I was surprised at the severity of the punishment," Lawrence commented after the sentencing, stating that he felt it was too long for a 20-year-old.
Lawrence felt that the photos of Beamer's neck and face that Krantz presented were very damaging.
"A picture is worth a thousand words," Lawrence said.
"I feel the sentence was too harsh," commented Everette Mason, Bowden's step father.
Mason said that he understands that his stepson is guilty and needs to be punished for his crimes, but felt that a shorter sentence would be more appropriate. He noted that being convicted of three felonies and being required to register as a sex offender is, in itself, a life sentence.
"We understand the seriousness of the crime and our hearts go out to the Beamer family for what she [Kelli Beamer] must have suffered at his hands," he said.
"We hope to convince the judge to show mercy at the sentencing hearing," he concluded.