|By Billy Davis
A Panola County circuit jury has found John Poynor Sr. guilty of having sex with a teenage girl.
Poynor, 61, faces a minimum 30-year sentence for statutory rape after the jury returned a guilty verdict Wednesday afternoon at the Panola County Courthouse in Batesville.
The girl, who is now 16, testified that Poynor had sex with her numerous times over a four-year period.
The jury also found Poynor guilty of fondling a second girl, a younger sister of the first victim. That count brings a two-year minimum sentence.
A second charge of statutory rape, which came from accusations made by a third sister, was tossed out by Circuit Judge Andrew C. Baker due to conflicting testimony from the girl.
After Circuit Clerk Joe Reid read the jury’s verdict, Poynor’s defense attorney, Jay Westfaul, announced plans to appeal the verdict and requested bond for his client.
Poynor, a former Beat 3 justice of the peace for Panola County, was taken into custody at the conclusion of the trial but, according to Westfaul, was resting at home on Thursday.
"Mr. Poynor is in poor health and is resting at home under the care of family members and medical personnel," Westfaul said in a statement faxed to The Panolian Thursday afternoon.
Westfaul also confirmed Thursday that he is appealing Poynor’s conviction to the state Supreme Court.
The jury of seven men and six women returned the verdict after about three and a half hours of deliberation, breaking only for an hour-long noon lunch after they were handed the case about 10:30 Wednesday morning.
Assistant District Attorney Robert Kelly prosecuted the state’s case against Poynor.
Witnesses for the state included the three sisters and their mother, Oxford pediatrician Tanya King, who examined the sisters, and Department of Human Services caseworker Bonnie Jean Rogers, who interviewed them.
The Oxford doctor hauled a laptop into the courtroom during her testimony, later loading a disc into the computer and showing jurors the girls’ recorded physical exams.
On the witness stand, King told Kelly she "absolutely" believed the physical exams showed evidence of sex over a long period of time.
"No matter how distasteful that was for some of you, that was evidence, evidence of what happened to these children," Kelly told the jurors.
To dispute the doctor’s testimony, Westfaul subpoenaed two teenage boys on behalf of Poynor, both boys testifying Monday that they had a sexual history with one of the girls.
The girl later testified, however, that she had dated the two boys but never had sex with them.
The second count against Poynor, the fondling charge, involved a four-wheeler ride he took last year with one of the sisters. He sat on the back of the ATV while the girl drove.
The girl testified that Poynor touched her inappropriately while she drove.
While Poynor acknowledged in court that he rode with the girl, he testified that he snatched at the girl’s clothes with one hand – and reached for the handlebars with the other hand – when she was about to wreck and topple the ATV.
"The reason I grabbed her was that we were were fixin’ to turn over," Poynor testified on Tuesday.
Prior to the start of the trial, Westfaul told The Panolian the charges against his client were "a big black lie" and he would walk free.
Pre-trial court documents showed the defense’s strategy: witnesses who allegedly were told by the mother that she planned to get money from Poynor.
One of the defense witnesses, Linda Lee, began to testify about her talks with the mother until Kelly objected to the testimony as "hearsay."
Baker sustained the objection from Kelly, thereby sinking the bedrock of Westfaul’s strategy for the trial.
Before her testimony was cut short, Lee said she lived near the mother in Batesville. The girls’ mother had approached her about Poynor’s activities with her own daughters, Lee said, and asked her if she would testify in court on her behalf.
The jury did get a hint of the defense’s strategy, however, when the girls’ mother acknowledged that she was shopping a civil suit against Poynor to attorneys.
Court testimony throughout the three-day trial pointed to possible parental neglect on behalf of the mother, an impression that Kelly acknowledged in his closing arguments.
Kelly implored the jury to judge the merits of the case without judging the bad actions of the girls’ mother, namely her relationship with Poynor.
"You’ve probably been sitting there thinking something’s going to go wrong, and something did go wrong, and that’s what this case is all about," Kelly told the jurors.
The mother and her daughters had lived with Poynor off and on since 1999, at times renting from him and at other times living with him.
During a month-long stay in Illinois, the girls reportedly told the mother about Poynor’s sexual actions, and she sought court action against him in Illinois.
The next month, however, the mother and daughters moved back into Poynor’s home when they returned to Panola County.
Poynor also testified that he gave the mother $100 to help with a car payment the same day Sheriff’s Investigator Mark Whitten stopped by his radiator shop to ask him to come to the sheriff’s department.
At the sheriff’s department, Poynor said he first learned of the felony charges filed against him.