GUNTERSVILLE — Walter Richard Rives, 77, of Albertville, was found guilty of sexually abusing a child less than 12 years old.
A jury of 13 men reached the verdict after deliberating for less than one hour Thursday morning inside the Marshall County Courthouse in Guntersville.
Rives was arrested and charged with sexual abuse of a child less than 12 years old in 2015, according to the Marshall County Sheriff’s Office inmate database. The victim is Rives’ great-great niece; she was 7 years old at the time of the incident, which is believed to have happened in 2014.
Trial began with opening statements and a testimony from the victim Tuesday afternoon. The Marshall County District Attorney’s Office is led the prosecution. Attorney Mark Hopper led the defense. Judge Chris Abel presided.
Before trial began, Rives pled not guilty.
During opening testimonies, Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Bray said the case boiled down to “motive and opportunity.” She said Rives had motive due to his past.
In 1985, Rives was put on trial after being charged with first degree sodomy of a girl that was 8-10 years old. Despite Rives’ admission to abuse of the girl in a separate dependency hearing, Bray said a mistrial was ordered — the reason is unknown.
In March of 1986, Bray said, Rives pled the charge down to a misdemeanor. Rives was not registered as a sex offender, according to Bray. She said a second case of alleged sex abuse of a child was later reported against Rives, but charges were not presented.
During the defense’s opening statement, Hopper said it was important for the jury to separate Rives’ history from the current case.
“What we are here for today is what happened to [the victim of the present case]” Hopper said. “Not what happened decades ago.”
Shortly after opening statements, the now 13-year-old victim took the stand to testify against Rives.
She said she could not remember every detail of what happened more than six years ago, but she definitively remembered Rives abusing her.
According to the victim, Rives would take her out for a ride on his 4-wheeler, and then stop once away from the house. Then, she said, he would abuse her. She said her cousins would ride on the 4-wheeler with them occasionally, but the abuse only happened when Rives and the victim were alone.
She could not remember if similar incidents happened in other locations. She also couldn’t remember how many times it had happened.
When she eventually told her mother what was happening, it was only by accident. The victim said she didn’t understand that what was happening was bad, only that it was uncomfortable.
The mother, who also testified, said her daughter revealed what was happening when they were talking about who she enjoyed staying with the most. The family lived on the same street as Rives and other family members, and the victim regularly stayed with them.
While she said she enjoyed staying with one family member, the victim told her mother she didn’t like staying at Rives’ home. That’s when the mother learned of the alleged abuse.
During her testimony, the mother claimed she had no knowledge of Rives’ history of alleged abuse. In fact, she said the family was on good terms before the incident was brought to light — she said there was no reason to fabricate a lie about Rives. The family thought of Rives as another grandparent.
An Albertville police officer and an investigator with the Department of Human Resources also testified Tuesday.
Witnesses related to Rives past alleged abuse cases testified Wednesday. Closing arguments were made Thursday morning before the jury decided the case.
"Our community is a safer place after this jury’s verdict," Bray said. "The evidence showed that Mr. Rives has gotten away with this type of conduct in the past, and we’re thankful that we were able to hold him accountable today to give the victim in this case some measure of justice.
"I’m thankful to Assistant District Attorney Adam Culbert and District Attorney investigators Jimmy Miller and John Young for their assistance in trying this case," she added.
A sentencing hearing for Rives will be held Jan. 6, 2020. Being found guilty, Bray said Rives could be sentenced 10-20 years in prison.
Although the prosecution requested Rives be placed in immediate custody following the trial, Abel ordered him to remain on bond until the sentencing hearing.