After a six-day trial and over eight hours of deliberation, a Calaveras County Superior Court jury found Joseph Riley Bigger guilty of raping his underage daughter repeatedly while the two were living at his San Andreas apartment.
The defendant pleaded not guilty to one count of continuous sexual abuse of a child under the age of 14 and 13 counts of lewd acts with a child under 14. He was found guilty of all 14 charges on May 3 and will be sentenced on June 10.
“I am so proud of the victim’s strength and perseverance, especially being so young and under such difficult circumstances.” Calaveras County Deputy District Attorney Monique Neese told the Enterprise shortly after the verdict was issued.
“We are pleased with the jury’s verdict and grateful for their time and attention to this case,” stated District Attorney Barbara Yook.
Bigger, 41, who was clean-shaven and wore a suit throughout the trial, watched each of the 11 witnesses’ testimonies intently, taking notes while shaking and nodding his head in response to certain statements.
Testimonies included five law enforcement and forensic officials, the victim, her mother and two expert witnesses called by the prosecution, and the defendant, his 15-year-old son and one expert witness called by the defense.
The victim, now 14, testified that her father began touching her inappropriately when she was 12 years old in August of 2017 and that the abuse escalated to recurring rape in November of 2017.
According to the victim, the defendant would often come into her room in the early hours of the morning after a night at the Red Brick Saloon in San Andreas and molest her while she pretended to sleep. The abuse occurred several times per week until the final incident on Feb. 25, 2018.
On Feb. 27, the victim was sent to live with her mother after an alleged verbal fight with her father concerning her misbehavior in school. During the car ride home, the victim wrote her mother a note telling for the first time of the abuse, according to the witnesses.
That note was submitted as evidence by the prosecution, in addition to photos of Bigger’s apartment, a forensic interview conducted with the victim shortly after reporting the abuse, a pair of the victim’s underwear that yielded male DNA matching Bigger, and an essay that the victim wrote as a disciplinary measure at school during the time of the ongoing abuse.
In the essay, the victim wrote that she was grateful for her father for all that “he puts me through” because it made her strong. When asked by Neese during her testimony if she had been referring to the abuse, the victim confirmed that she had.
When asked why she had not told anyone about the abuse prior to writing the note and why she had not done anything to stop her father during the incidents, she testified that she was afraid of what he might do.
“Child molesters get away with it by virtue of secrecy,” Neese said in her closing statement. “She’s 13, and she’s been raped repeatedly for months by the person she’s loved and trusted to care for her. She was embarrassed, and she didn’t want to talk about it.”
The victim stated during her testimony that she wanted to forget the many incidents and that it was difficult to testify before a jury.
“No one should have (to) --,” she began to say before breaking into tears. Visiting judge Garrett Olney then ordered a recess for the victim to collect herself.
Although her name has been kept anonymous, the victim indicated that she wanted to share her story with the public.
The victim’s mother gave an emotional testimony corroborating her daughter’s claims. She admitted to a rocky relationship with her daughter and confirmed that the victim had chosen to live with her ex-husband, Bigger, for several years.
Bigger stated that he was “not a perfect parent” during his testimony but vehemently denied all accusations of molesting his daughter.
The defense painted the picture of a girl who was continually getting in trouble at school and was angered when her father sent her to live with her mother, who she did not get along with.
In her closing statement, public defender Leigh Fleming argued that there were inconsistencies between the victim’s testimony and forensic interview, and that the DNA evidence found on the pair of underwear was inconclusive.
Fleming told the Enterprise following the issuing of the verdict that even though she appreciates the time the jury took to “thoroughly review the evidence,” she remains “steadfast” in her belief in her client’s innocence.
The DNA sample was taken from a portion of the victim’s underwear that tested positive for p30 -- a protein found in seminal fluid in high concentrations and sometimes, but rarely, in other bodily fluids, according to all three expert witnesses.
“It wouldn’t confirm seminal fluid but most likely was from seminal fluid,” stated senior criminalist with the California Department of Justice (DOJ) Elizabeth Schreiber, who tested the p30 sample.
Concerning the DNA sample, DOJ senior criminalist Jennai Lawson testified that she had uncovered “quite a bit of male DNA” on the underwear that was likely not transferred by touch alone.
The DNA matched that of the defendant and any other male in his familial line, including his son, who was living in the apartment at the time of the alleged incidents.
In her closing statement, Neese argued that she had produced more than enough evidence to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant was guilty of all 14 charges, placing stacks of exhibits in a box before the jury.
During their deliberations, the jury requested to review the footage of the forensic interview.
According to Fleming, the victim and many others who had sat through the trial were not present in the courtroom during the reading of the verdict due to the abruptness of the decision.
Bigger awaits sentencing at the Calaveras County Jail.