COVINGTON, Ga. – A former detention officer convicted of sexual assault was back in a Newton County courtroom Tuesday afternoon asking for a new trial.
David Rex Bell, 33, has been in state custody since his October 2015 conviction for sexually assaulting a female inmate in the medical unit of the Newton County Jail in May 2013.
He is serving the first 25 years of a life sentence imposed by Alcovy Circuit Superior Court Judge Samuel Ozburn in prison after a jury found him guilty of multiple charges including aggravated sodomy, aggravated sexual battery, sexual assault against a person in custody and violation of oath of a public officer.
Bell worked at the jail as a detention officer at the time of the incident.
Chief Assistant District Attorney Jillian Hall said Bell is claiming that because of his position at the jail he was coerced and forced to make a statement and that the statement he gave was immunized and could not be used, read or known by the prosecution.
She said Bell is claiming his trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance for failing to file a motion to exclude the interview from the trial.
In court Tuesday, attorney Brian Steel argued that Bell felt he had to cooperate with investigators or risk losing his job.
Bell, who is currently serving his sentence at Long State Prison in Ludowici, testified he had been a detention officer for seven years at the time of his arrest.
At Tuesday’s hearing, he told Steel he feared losing his job if he didn’t cooperate with the investigation.
“What would happen if you did not cooperate?” Steel asked.
“I could be punished up to termination,” Bell replied,” I could lose my job.”
During cross-examination, however, Hall asked Bell if he had been told by investigators that he did not have to answer any questions and could leave at any time.
“Yes, Ma’am,” he replied.
Former Newton County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Robert Gaddy testified Bell was interviewed as part of a criminal investigation after the incident.
He said Bell was read his Miranda Rights after he made incriminating statements.
Gaddy said Bell did not voice any concerns about his job security during the interview.
“He wanted to know what his charges would be,” Gaddy said.
Among the other motions for a new trial he is making, Hall said Bell is also claiming ineffective counsel during his trial because his attorney failed to question the victim about a civil lawsuit she had filed against Bell and Newton County.
Approximately 20 people sat in the gallery during the three plus hour hearing that included multiple witnesses, including attorney Terri Doepke. Doepke worked for the public defender’s office in 2015 and was Bell’s attorney during his trial.
Judge Ozburn gave attorneys for both sides until the end of August to complete and exchange final written arguments and get them to the court. He said he will issue an order shortly thereafter.