A jury found John E. Schneider not guilty of the charges of kidnapping with bodily harm, rape, aggravated anal sodomy and two counts of aggravated sexual battery in a hushed courtroom Friday afternoon in Liberty County Superior Court.
They did find him guilty of lesser charges that resulted in sentences of 10 years in prison, but also found Schneider not guilty on one count of theft by taking.
Schneider was facing the possibility of three life sentences without the possibility of parole if he had been found guilty of the more serious charges.
The allegations stemmed from an incident that occurred inside a home in February 2007 when Schneider lived with the homeowner, a Sunbury woman 20 years his senior.
Schneider and the woman met while Schneider was working and staying aboard his sailboat the Mud-Lark. Schneider reportedly purchased the vessel from Laura Devendorf for $300. The vessel was partially submerged for some time after sustaining damage in a storm. Schneider’s dream was to fix it and live sailing the seas. Schneider also worked on a few boats, worked on shrimp boats and was later hired as a dishwasher at the now closed Shrimp Docks Restaurant.
The woman was a widow. She and her husband moved to the area when he was to Fort Stewart to work as a civilian engineer. They were married around 34 years. During testimony she said a car struck her husband while he was on post. He languished for 67 days before he died. She maintained the home with insurance settlements and allotments after the driver was sued.
She met Schneider in June 2006. While testimony from both parties would argue certain aspects of their relationship both Schneider and the woman said they eventually grew to love each other and began to live together, at one point wearing rings and exchanging vows in an unofficial ceremony.
The woman agrees she spent money on Schneider and his family. She testified she spent around $10,000 in one shopping spree at Mr. Cash Pawn Shop in Midway when she purchased the entire display box filled with rings, necklaces and assorted jewelry for them to share. She bought Schneider’s nephew a car for $3,800 because as she said the car was falling apart and rusty. She bought a 37’ sailing vessel named the Gremlin from Eastern District Fire Chief Joseph Martin. The bill of sale for $45,0006.
“I bought it for the two of us to use,” she said in court. “I find the experience of sailing as close to Heaven as you can get.”
Testimony proved she paid for everything and he in turn did things around the house. By this time they were seen out as a couple going out for dinners, holding each other’s hand and occasionally kissing. Both testified their relationship had extended into intimacy as well.
The woman said everything started to change in January 2007.
“He could go from the loving kind of John into a darkness I didn’t understand,” she testified. “He said he heard voices that told him to do evil.” She testified regarding one event where he went into a fit of rage and took her personal furniture and burned them in her yard.
“He burned personal item,” she said. “A lot of furniture that had been passed down by my family. He destroyed my china cabinet.”
On another occasion she said she was forced to sit for hours and if she asked for something to drink he would pour it over her head.
“Don’t you scream,” she said while testifying about the incident. “Don’t you call for help. He put his hand across my face until I was bruised. Something inside me said don’t argue, don’t fight, do what this man tells you because this was not right. Inside I was terrified.”
She said she stayed with Schneider because he seemed remorseful afterward and she deeply cared and was concerned for him.
On Feb. 22, 2007, the woman testified she was forced to do things that were against her will and deplorable. She said he terrified her by making her lie in a bathtub full of water while he dangled a running hair dryer. She said he later raped and sodomized her. She said she was so terrified she did anything he asked because she feared he was going to kill her. She said she wrote out a check for $12,000 and wrote a bill of sale in Schneider’s name for the Gremlin because he demanded it.
Afterward she told the court, “I said, ‘John I forgive you.’ I felt he would not have done any of those things if he was in his right mind.” She told the court she waited for Schneider to fall asleep and snuck out for help.
Schneider testified he admitted to burning the furniture, but said he was sorry and that was worked up because the woman said she was going to replace those pieces anyway and because he was truly remorseful. He denied ever holding her against her will and said he had done nothing to harm her. As for the rape and sodomy he said that was consensual, experimental sex. Schneider said she was first to seduce him when they met. Schneider said she was the one who needed and demanded favors from him to the point he asked and received medical assistance.
Assistant District Attorney Jon Hope from the Atlanta Judicial Court Circuit represented the state in the trial arguing Schneider did the crime as a way of humiliating her. He said Schneider used the woman for her money and that her only fault was she was too caring and naïve.
“You are talking about a woman who raised four children,” he said. “A woman who lived a live of devotion and Christianity. There is nothing in her background that would seem to suggest she would lie. Make no mistake about it he tortured her.”
Georgia Public Defenders Chief Conflict Defender Stephen Yekel said it was the credibility of the witnesses and the errors made by Liberty County Det. Jeff Hein during the investigation that led the jury to enter not guilty on the severe charges.
“I think there was reasonable doubt that the jury could base on things that were done or should have been done by the police department that would have established in way or the other,” Yekel said, citing items shown in trial that could have implicated automatically or eliminated automatically Schneider’s involvement.
“There were too many things we could show indicating it didn’t happen the way it reported to be.”
Yekel said his client was well aware of the risk of a jury trial, but said his client proclaimed his innocence of the greater charges since the beginning.
“Mr. Schneider felt like he was not guilty of the serious sexual charges that were leveled against him,” Yekel said. “And he was adamant that he wanted to go before the jury and present the facts to a jury.”
“Your honor I want to thank you for a fair trail,” Schneider said to Superior Court Judge Paul Rose after the verdict. “My name is the most important thing to me and I’ve saved that so I want to thank you.”
It took the jury an hour and 20 minutes to reach the verdict.
Schneider was found guilty of false imprisonment, one count of theft by taking (jewelry) and one count of terroristic threats. Rose sentenced Schneider to 10 years in confinement.
Schneider has been in Liberty County Region Jail since his arrest back in February 2007.