A former 4-H employee celebrated Wednesday after a Columbia County jury acquitted her of molestation charges.
The jury found Jennifer Gayle Davenport, 27, of Augusta, not guilty of aggravated sexual battery and aggravated child molestation after two hours of deliberation.
“I do feel like there’s a burden lifted off my chest,” Davenport said after the verdict.
A 15-year-old girl, who said she became close with Davenport through 4-H, accused her in March of sexually abusing her in the teen’s Martinez home on three occasions in February.
Davenport has been involved in 4-H since she was in the fifth grade. She was a summer camp counselor for four years while attending college and volunteered until she was hired as a Columbia County program assistant in 2012. She resigned a few weeks before her April 1 arrest.
“She has been around thousands of young women and young men,” Davenport’s attorney, Lynn Akeley-Alderman, said in her closing arguments Wednesday. “Thousands of children. Who else have we got here besides (the teen) saying this happened? No one.”
Davenport denied the allegations, saying she believes the teen made it all up.
The teen testified Monday and Tuesday and said she resisted Davenport’s advances, but Davenport didn’t listen.
“I just let it happen and didn’t do anything,” the teen said tearfully from the stand. She said she didn’t initially tell her parents because she didn’t want to embarrass and upset her family and get herself and Davenport in trouble. “Up until that point, I never really had a friend that treated me like Jennifer did. ... I was going to do whatever I had to to protect that.”
When the trial began Monday, Akely-Alderman claimed the teen made up the allegations.
“The teen “has some issues that would drive her to make such claims against my client,” Akeley-Alderman said, adding the only evidence of the incidents is the teen’s testimony. “She couldn’t help this girl and based on some untold motivation, she lashed out against my client.”
Assistant District Attorney Titus Nichols said that Davenport’s actions were not those of a friend, but of a “sexual predator.”
Davenport said she doesn’t know where she’ll go now, but she’d love to continue to follow her passion.
“I do feel in my heart that I will work with 4-H kids in some way, just wherever God leads me,” she said.
“I thank God for helping me through this whole process,” Davenport said.
On Tuesday, 10 people testified in Davenport’s favor, describing her as an outgoing person who was popular among the 4-H members she worked with.
“The kids loved her,” said Linda Luoma, who worked with Davenport. “She’s fun-loving. The kids loved to be around her.”
Seven of the teen’s peers in 4-H and high school testified that they spent a lot of time with Davenport without any inappropriate behavior. They also agreed they were not close friends, but more like acquaintances of the teen, and that the girl’s “reputation in the community for truthfulness” wasn’t good. One specified the teen was known to exaggerate.
The teen’s mother said she had a “feeling” and asked her daughter if Davenport touched her. The teen then described the abuse she said she endured.
The jury had little evidence to consider, including the girl’s testimony, the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office investigator and the witness who testified on behalf of Davenport.
“Regardless of this jury’s verdict,” Akeley-Alderman said in her closing, “this is going to stick with her the rest of her life.”