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Defense says Forde is victim of lie

NATCHEZ — Defense attorneys for James Wesley Forde said Wednesday he is an innocent man who was stalked and then lied about by an infatuated teen, while prosecutors alleged the 43-year-old was a willing participant in a sexual relationship with a young boy.

Forde is on trial in Adams County for sexual battery. The trial began after lunch Wednesday, and though Forde was initially indicted on nine counts, the state dropped three of those counts before the trial began.

Forde is accused of having oral and anal sex with the alleged victim — who was 15 at the time of the alleged sexual contact and is now 17 — between June 2010 and March 2011. During the jury selection process, District Attorney Ronnie Harper said consent on the part of the teen does not alleviate the charges of sexual battery.

“The law considers that if they are of a certain age, they are not in a position to consent,” he said. “It doesn’t require any kind of force being used.”

In her opening statement, Assistant District Attorney Debra Blackwell said the victim first met Forde at a production of “The King and I” at Natchez Little Theatre.

“(The victim) indicated he was immediately attracted to Forde,” Blackwell said. “He wore nice clothes, and he had lived in New Orleans, a city (the victim) adores.”

The relationship eventually developed into a sexual one, Blackwell said, which resulted in sexual encounters at NLT, in Forde’s truck, his business — The Forde Line — and a residence on Rankin Street.

“Mr. Forde told (the victim), ‘We have to be discreet, it is our secret.’ (The victim) thought he was in love with Mr. Forde.”

The relationship was revealed after the teen was placed in therapy in Arkansas for alcohol and drug use.

“Disclosure by a minor child when they have been abused is a process, not an event,” Blackwell said. “The stigmatization that is attached to it seems to be exaggerated against a little boy when he has been abused, especially for a teenage boy who thinks, ‘Oh my God, my friends are going to think I am gay.’”

Defense attorney Kevin Colbert said there is no evidence Forde is a homosexual, and that there are no witnesses who will support the victim’s story.

“(The victim) started stalking James Forde from the time he met him,” Colbert said.

Other evidence that jurors will have to consider include notes that the teen left for Forde at his house, Colbert said, and a witness will be called who will testify that he heard the teen threaten to tell his parents Forde had raped him when Forde was trying to get the alleged victim to leave him alone.

Much of Wednesday’s proceedings were taken up by two-and-a-half hours of testimony by the victim, who said he met the defendant during practice for the play. One day their legs brushed together while they were sitting on a couch, and neither moved their legs, he said.

“(I was attracted to him) because he was nice to me, because I was going through a hard time at school,” the victim said. “Because I participated in the arts, people had been calling me ‘faggot’ and ‘gay,’ and the theater was a really safe place for me, and he was a friendly person.”

Toward the end of the production run of “The King and I,” the relationship progressed to include touching, groping, kissing and oral sex, which occurred in a dressing room at NLT, the victim testified.

The victim said he did not have contact with Forde again until August, when Forde attended a production of “Beauty and the Beast,” in which the teen had a part. After the show, the victim said they agreed to meet later and — after he told his parents he was going out for a jog — Forde picked him up and drove down U.S. 61 to Sibley, where another sexual act happened in the truck before Forde dropped him off near his grandmother’s house.

The victim also testified that sometimes he would tell his mother he wanted to go downtown to study in a local shop, but would instead visit Forde at his business. During testimony the victim indicated that at least once that he viewed pornography in the back of the shop.

“There were times when he had customers there that I would just chill in the back and would be drinking alcohol,” he said.

Another reported incident of sexual contact included traveling to an address on Rankin Street, where the teen testified the two took a shower together but that he found the layout of the house “confusing” because at the time he had been drinking hard liquor.

The victim also said sometimes he would leave church to leave Forde notes.

“During church, during the sermon, I would tell my parents I was going to use the restroom, but I would take their car and try to find James,” he said. “Every time I would go to his house on Sunday, he wouldn’t be there, so I would just drop the notes off at his shop.”

One of the notes, written on a First Baptist Church Sunday service bulletin, said, “Hey sexy, I miss you.”

When Colbert asked the victim why he would write such a note on a church bulletin, he responded, “Because I was 15 and dumb, sir.”

Colbert contended that the notes were not left at Forde’s business, but at the Rankin Street house, where the victim believed Forde was living but where one of Forde’s friends was living. Forde had moved out of the house before the alleged sexual encounter there, Colbert said.

The defense attorney also asked the victim if he had accused any other adults of having sex with him. The victim said he discussed his past sexual encounters when he was in therapy at Capstone Treatment Center.

“I disclosed my personal sexual encounters with other adults,” the victim said. “I disclosed it, and I did not know what Capstone did with that.”

Judge Forrest “Al” Johnson decided to recess the case Wednesday when Colbert said he wanted to examine the victim’s phone records in depth.

The case will resume this morning.

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